Why Are There Stigmas Around Type 2 Diabetes?
If you have diabetes, then you have probably dealt with a stigma before. Managing diabetes on a daily basis is already enough of a challenge, and you certainly don't need others stigmatizing the chronic condition you are living with. It might make you wonder, "where do these stigmas around type 2 diabetes come from?"
The definition of a stigma
A stigma can be defined as “...a characteristic of a person that differs negatively from culturally defined norms."1
Factors that may contribute to type 2 diabetes stigmas
Stigmas are harmful, and there are several ways they can form. Here are a few of the possible sources of type 2 diabetes stigmas.
Lack of education about diabetes
When we are in school, most of us do not get a crash course on what diabetes is and how to prevent it. In fact, in high school, we are only required to take one health education course. Those who are not at risk for diabetes have probably never discussed diabetes with their doctor. Someone might have a vague idea of what diabetes is, but due to their lack of education, may hold certain stigmas regarding it.
Many people don't have personal connections tied to diabetes
Those who hold stigmas against others likely do not have diabetes themselves. They may not know anyone in their life that has diabetes. Therefore, they do not know the day-in and day-out challenges of living with this chronic condition.
Negative rhetoric about people with diabetes
When type 2 diabetes is being discussed, words that hold a negative connotation are often brought up. Words like “poor diet,” “lazy,” “unhealthy,” and “overweight” are wrongly associated with diabetes. Many people with diabetes eat a healthy diet, live an active lifestyle, and are extremely productive people!
Inaccurate depiction of diabetes in media and culture
Sadly, when it comes to representing chronic conditions and disabilities in television shows and movies, the depiction is not often accurate. This maintains true for representations of type 2 diabetes in the media. For someone who doesn't have personal experience or education on diabetes, this might be their only exposure to it.
It's easy to shift the blame on individuals
Receiving a diabetes diagnosis, and then living with it, can obviously be both scary and stressful. Someone who has not dealt with this might find it easier to blame developing diabetes on the individual. It’s easier for someone to dump all the blame on the individual, rather than considering the complicated risk factors, like genetics, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and environment that play into diabetes.
Stigmas can be harmful to people with diabetes
Stigmas are uncalled for and can often make someone feel negatively towards oneself. If someone is embarrassed by their diabetes, they may not seek treatment for it or other comorbidities. They may not feel like they can discuss the struggles they go through. Being stigmatized can cause someone to feel uncomfortable, depressed, guilty, anxious, and have low self-esteem. In short, stigmas do not support the person being stigmatized.
What to do if you see someone stigmatizing type 2 diabetes
It is not your job to always call out and educate everyone who stigmatizes type 2 diabetes. However, sometimes you may feel called to do so. Bringing someone's attention to a stigma can provide a productive learning experience. On the other hand, someone might not want to listen, and this is just something you might have to accept.
Sharing your personal experience
Bringing up the fact that you have diabetes is a good place to start. You could start by saying something like "I live with diabetes, and I feel like/I think/I disagree..." Sharing accurate information and your own story can be helpful for breaking down stigmas.
By creating space for honest conversations with your family, friends, coworkers, and loved ones, you can help educate them on what it's like to live with diabetes and break down the false stigmas.2
Do you use a glucose monitor to check your blood sugars?