Diabetes stigma among First Nations people

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Many people with diabetes experience ‘diabetes stigma’ daily through comments that judge, blame and shame them for having diabetes, for how they manage it, and for developing complications.

Experts warn widespread community misunderstanding and stigma about diabetes are driving high rates of mental health problems for people living with diabetes. Almost 50 per cent of people with diabetes have experienced a mental health issue relating to diabetes in the past twelve months.

Social, cultural and historical impacts

The health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be impacted by social, cultural and historical factors. One aspect of significance is cultural awareness which involves recognising that we are all shaped by our cultural background, which in turn influences how we interpret the world around us, perceive ourselves and relate to other people. It includes acknowledging past histories, policies and practices.  More pertinent to diabetes stigma is the concept of shame and its importance within many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Shame can act as a barrier to seeking help as it can be overwhelming and disempowering.

Cultural competence

Cultural competence on the other hand focuses on the capacity of a person to apply cultural awareness and knowledge to their behaviours and attitudes. Being culturally competent involves behaviours and attitudes that reflect an awareness about which concepts, behaviours or language are taboo and may cause shame. In regards to diabetes stigma, people’s attitudes and stereotypes about diabetes can negatively impact a person’s mental health and lead to complications to their overall health. Being culturally competent in conjunction with self-awareness of the language and attitudes that may exacerbate diabetes stigma can assist in reducing its prevalence in communities.

Four out of five

Research tells us that four out of five people living with diabetes have experienced feeling stigmatised because of their diabetes at some time.  There are many reasons someone might experience stigma. It can be because they feel misunderstood, judged, blamed or even made to feel guilty about their diabetes. Mentally this can be a lot for people to deal with. It can impact how someone manages their diabetes, resulting in physical and emotional setbacks.

How can we help to reduce diabetes stigma in our community?

Reducing the community misunderstandings that are driving the misconception that diabetes is simply a lifestyle condition is important.  Reinforce the following with people living with diabetes, their families and the public:

  • Many risk factors including genetics, family history and age influence a person’s risk of developing diabetes.
  • There are many types of diabetes and it is not purely a lifestyle condition.
  • Some medications and surgeries such as pancreatic resection can cause diabetes.
  • Encourage the use of evidence based information for education purposes such as via the National Diabetes Services Scheme

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes