Young man checking his blood sugar level

The Social Stigma of Diabetes

Even as more Americans get diagnosed with diabetes each year, there is still a lot of confusion and misinformation about the disease. Misunderstanding can cause people with diabetes to feel awkward or ashamed in their everyday lives. Here are a few considerations to help spread understanding of what people with diabetes experience.

Ignore the Blame

76% of people with Type 1 and 52% of people with Type 2 feel that they’re treated differently because of their disease. One factor is that many people who aren’t educated on the matter blame people for developing diabetes.

There’s a common belief that the disease is preventable, and that if you have diabetes then you’ve done something to “deserve” it. People might make assumptions about your lifestyle, like that you eat an unhealthy diet or that you aren’t active enough.

There’s also a visual component to the blame around diabetes. If you’re physically fit, people might say you don’t “look” like you have diabetes. If you manage your disease without public injections, they might not even believe you have the disease.

All of this blame isn’t just hurtful, it comes from a lack of education. Many paths lead to diabetes, and it takes many forms. The way you developed the disease and the way you manage it are personal and entirely valid.

Navigate Social Pressure

Even routine social interactions can be awkward for people with diabetes. Take for example when someone at work bakes cookies. It can feel impolite not to take one, but offering your diabetes as an excuse can lead to awkward conversations or pity from your co-worker. In rare cases they might even put pressure on you — “Just one cookie couldn’t hurt!” 

Whatever the response, the simple act of a co-worker offering baked goods forces people with diabetes to have an interaction based on their disease. At best it can feel awkward, and at worst it can reinforce the blame that they may already feel.

Overcoming the Stigma

Just like any chronic disease, it can be hard for people with diabetes to not internalize shame. As you adjust your lifestyle and habits to manage diabetes, you might struggle to feel “normal.” You might feel like your body has given up on you, and talking about it can be embarrassing.

That shame can extend to family members if your diabetes is genetic. Eighty-three percent of parents of kids with Type 1 feel like others blame them for their child’s disease. Aside from external blaming, those parents might feel ashamed of passing down a family disease. 

There’s no shame in having diabetes. Community Health Network is dedicated to sharing accurate information about diabetes to help people manage their disease — and to spread greater understanding to our communities.

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