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New survey reveals impact language has on Kiwis with diabetes

Friday, November 4, 2022   Posted in: Resources and Information By: Administrator With tags: survey, diabetes, language, awareness

A new survey indicates 40 percent of New Zealanders living with diabetes have stopped talking to family, friends and health professionals about their condition due to a fear of being judged or getting a negative response.

That’s according to figures released by Diabetes New Zealand for Diabetes Action Month that takes place nationwide throughout November.

More than 1,440 New Zealanders living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes took part in the Diabetes ‘Language Matters’ survey, with language being a key focus for Diabetes Action Month this year.

Diabetes New Zealand is calling on all New Zealanders to be mindful of the language they use when speaking to people living with diabetes – a condition that affects around 290,000 Kiwis. This number is projected to increase to between 390,000 and 430,000 by 2040.

“Everyone knows someone living with diabetes, so we can all play our part in ensuring we have a positive impact on their lives. This can be as simple as choosing the words we use wisely when talking to our friends, whānau, colleagues, students and acquaintances with diabetes about their condition,” says Diabetes New Zealand CEO Heather Verry.

“What we say can have a direct effect on whether someone feels like a failure, as opposed to being empowered to take an active role in managing their diabetes. 90 percent of the time, people with diabetes self-manage their condition and when they are made to feel bad it has a direct impact on their health. Language does matter,” she says.

A quarter of those surveyed said the language people use when talking to them about diabetes has a negative impact on them - making them feel, for example, judged, excluded, misunderstood or guilty.

The things that cause the most offence is a lack of understanding, judgement around diet suggestions that people brought diabetes on themselves, confusion between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, according to the survey results. Sadly, the worst ‘offenders’ were equally divided between people closest to those with diabetes (friends and family) and complete strangers.

President of the New Zealand Society for the Study of Diabetes (NZSSD), endocrinologist and diabetes researcher, Dr Rosemary Hall, says language can be a big issue for the emotional and physical wellbeing of people with diabetes.

“Words are powerful. Negative language can have a significant effect on every aspect of diabetes – physical health, emotional well-being, and the ability for people to talk openly and connect with their health care professionals. We must remove stigma and blame from our language. What is essential is that we work with people who have diabetes and their whānau to identify language that is respectful, inclusive and gives hope,” says Dr Hall.

Ruby McGill has experienced first-hand the impact negative language can have. McGill was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 14 years old and says as a teenager, she wasn’t equipped to deal with the way people spoke to her about diabetes.

“Teenagers are particularly susceptible to suffering from emotional and physical impacts because they don’t necessarily have the wisdom, experience and confidence to bat off hurtful comments,” says Ms McGill, who is the former director of youth at Diabetes New Zealand.

“As a result, many young New Zealanders with diabetes feel ashamed and stop seeking help.”

Diabetes New Zealand’s Heather Verry says the survey reveals that while words have the power to offend, they also have the power to support, nurture and value people with diabetes.

“It was heartening to see the number of people with diabetes in our survey that felt valued, understood, or supported by the language other people use to talk to them about their condition. Imagine if everyone in Aotearoa with diabetes had that experience and the impact that would have.”

As part of Diabetes Action Month, Diabetes New Zealand has launched its “Language Matters” online resource to provide New Zealanders with guidance on words and phrases to use and those to avoid. A podcast series “Diabetes Matters” also launches with the first in the series being on language.

“We encourage New Zealanders to read our language booklet and listen to the podcast panel discussion. Through education, we can all work together to reduce stigma and improve the health outcomes of Kiwis with diabetes.

“The reality is, no one chooses diabetes and it's important New Zealanders understand that,” says Ms Verry.

Find out more about Diabetes Action month, including how to view Diabetes NZ’s new downloadable resource “Language Matters”. The “Diabetes Matters” podcast series is available on Spotify, iTunes, iHeartRADIO and Google Podcasts.