Finding Support When You Have Diabetes

Diabetes, like any type of medical condition, can be overwhelming for the individual that is diagnosed. Of course not all people notice a huge change in their lives and many people are able to easily adjust to the lifestyle changes that minimize the risks involved with diabetes of any type. Research studies do show that individuals that have strong support systems tend to have fewer challenges in dealing with their diabetes and preventing some of the concurrent health conditions associated with the disease. In one research study of 253 patients with type 2 diabetes it was found that being married was associated with lower HbA1c levels. This was also combined with greater satisfaction reporting with medication and testing of blood glucose levels. 1

This research doesn’t mean to indicate that being married is enough to lower HbA1c levels, but rather that the support of a significant person in a diabetic’s life can have a very positive influence. Partners and spouses can also provide encouragement, empathy and compassion and can also help to motivate the diabetic to complete routine exercise programs and to choose healthy eating and lifestyle choices.  Approaching healthy living from a family or partnership perspective is a very positive way to look at life and one that will result in better overall physical as well as emotional health for all involved.

Start With Education

For friends and family to become supportive of the changes in your life it is important that they understand your diagnosis and why you are making the lifestyle choices that you are. Some of these changes may include adding regular exercise, eating a higher fiber, lower carbohydrate diet and getting out of bad habits such as drinking or tobacco use.

Providing education to your friends and family doesn’t have to be stressful for anyone. Even children can learn about diabetes at an age appropriate level and they can be great sources of inspiration, encouragement and positive recognition for the changes you will see in you life. Educating the family is seen as critical in many studies of the role of the family in helping a diabetic to maintain regular blood glucose testing routines and healthy eating and exercise schedules.

The role of the education of the family may become particularly important if the individual in the family diagnosed with diabetes is elderly. A study of older Mexican Americans diagnosed with type 2 diabetes indicated that the family culture and behavior was strongly linked to the diabetic’s diet and self-care choices. The study recommended the education and interventions should include training of significant family members to help with developing self-care for the patient within the family system. 2

Support From Others

Not all individuals with diabetes have a family support system available. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t supports available, but you may need to complete a bit of research to find specific programs within your community. The American Diabetes Association and several other diabetes focused websites offer online chat systems and forums that allow diabetics to provide information, encouragement and support. In addition there are many community based groups that meet, typically these are organized through hospitals or clinics but they can also be provided through organizations and community colleges.

Networking with other people with diabetes in the community can be a very positive experience for everyone involved. This doesn’t need to be a formal interaction and, with just a bit of research, you may be surprised that many of the people you already know are diabetics. Finding a person that has diabetes can provide you with a mentor, coach and friend that understands just what you are going through. You may also be able to find individuals at the gym, at your workplace or your neighbors that are eager to also have someone to talk too about the emotional and physical challenges that diabetes can pose.

Some workplaces that offer Employee Assistance Programs may have counselors, nutritionists or other professionals that may be helpful in providing you with support, information and education as part of the services offered through their program. They may also be able to help you in setting up a support group or a training program within your company, agency or business. Asking about these types of services is a great way to find out what is available.

You may also want to seek counseling or therapy assistance, particularly if you are struggling with depression, anxiety or anger because of a diagnosis of diabetes. These are all common responses and, with a professional to help you process the feelings and emotions that are normal with any medical diagnosis you can find the support that you need. Counseling may be short or long term and you can often participate in group sessions that will provide additional support in dealing with the issues you are facing.

Many diabetics that need mental health services for depression fail to obtain these services. In all age groups, individuals with diabetes are undertreated for mental health issues that are related to living with a chronic disease. In a bi-directional study between patients with type 2 diabetes and depression it was found that depression has a 60% increased risk of the development of type 2 diabetes. A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes has a modest increase in the risk of developing depression. 3

The more individuals that are knowledgeable, positive and supportive that you have in your life, the more successful your lifestyle changes will be. People that are not supportive or that don’t want to contribute to the changes that you want to make in your life are not going to provide support and may, in fact, be counterproductive. Making a decision as to those that are there to provide support and those that will play a lesser role in your life is often difficult but it is important.

References

1 Daly, J. M., Hartz, A. J., Xu, Y., et al. (2009). An Assessment of Attitudes, Behaviors, and Outcomes of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine , 280-290.

2 Wen, L., Shepherd, M., & Parchman, M. (2004). Family support, diet, and exercise among older Mexican Americans with type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Educator , 980-993.

Mezuk, B., Eaton, W. W., Albrecht, S., et al. (2008). Depression and Type 2 Diabetes Over the Lifespan. Diabetes Care , 2383-2390.

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.