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How to overcome shame after a type 2 diabetes diagnosis

There’s no ‘right’ way to feel after finding out that you have type 2 diabetes. A diagnosis still comes with a fair amount of stigma and anxiety, so if you’re feeling any sense of shame, don’t worry — you are not alone. We’ve gathered some ways to overcome shame about your diagnosis and move forward in a positive direction.
Annabel Nicholson
3/9/2022
10
min read
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Quick summary

  • The feeling of shame or guilt after a type 2 diagnosis can come from many sources, but the first step to beating it is knowing that none of this is your fault 
  • Becoming the master of what’s happening to your body — and why — can help to break down any uncertainty, and with that, shame
  • Opening up to a loved one or friend can help ease the burden of your diagnosis and make you feel less alone, as can finding people who also have type 2
  • Rather than trying to wish or will your diagnosis away, set realistic and manageable goals to beat away the blues and any shame you may be feeling
  • Doing things that are good for your mental and emotional wellbeing can help you come to terms with your diabetes diagnosis

Over 4.9 million in the UK are living with diabetes, some 90% of whom have type 2 diabetes.[1] Despite such prevalence, there’s a social stigma and shame surrounding the diagnosis—according to a 2017 review of 55 studies, 36% of people with a diabetes-related diagnosis experience emotional stress, including guilt and shame. [2] 

These feelings can have a really negative effect on patients. A 2019 study posited diabetes distress, which includes feelings of guilt, as one of the “most common and important psychosocial barriers to effective diabetes care”.[3] It can also affect diabetes treatment directly because people may be less inclined to use approaches that are obvious to others, like administering insulin injections or self-monitoring blood glucose.[4] Guilt and shame can also lead to a lower quality of life, a higher risk of complications, and poor self-care.[5]

The bottom line? Working to eliminate the shame you may be feeling is just as important as any of the dietary, exercise, or behavioural changes you plan to make. There’s no better time to start building a positive relationship with yourself and your diabetes management — here’s how to live without shame after a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Understand that your type 2 diabetes diagnosis is not your fault

Dealing with your emotions after a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is no mean feat. But before we dive into how to battle shame, it’s important that we make one thing clear: your diagnosis isn’t your fault. Type 2 diabetes is a complex condition with myriad stigmas, which are unfortunately often reinforced by medical professionals, family, friends, and ourselves.  

Guilt is one of the most common and important psychosocial barriers to effective diabetes care

Skinner et al., Diabetic Medicine

For example, a prevailing stigma is that only those who are obese and eat a poor diet have it. Of course, there’s a relationship between weight, diet and type 2, however, there’s many other factors at play. Plenty of things outside a person’s control can ramp up their risk, from age to family history and ethnicity. Type 2 is three to six times more prevalent in people of South Asian or Black heritage than those from a White background.[6] So step one—ditch the blame game. A type 2 diabetes diagnosis does not represent a personal failing. 

Get to grips with type 2 diabetes

From understanding your symptoms to making sense of reversing diabetes, there’s a lot of information to process when you first receive a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. But, as the old adage goes, knowledge is power. While it’s easy to get into a scroll hole of doom and gloom with a chronic condition, steer clear of news about possible diabetes complications. Instead, focus on what you can do right now to nourish your body and create the best routine to help it flourish. 

Becoming the master of what’s happening to your body—and why—can help to break down any uncertainty and with that, shame. Lots of information is already out there and ready for you to discover—you don’t need any kind of qualification to get a clear picture of type 2 diabetes. From the NHS to a number of credible diabetes charities, you can easily find out more about the condition, its symptoms, and available support. 

Watch out though—there’s a fair amount of guidance that’s not backed by science. So ensure that any information you take on is reliable and informed by academic research, and if you have any questions or want to make changes to your lifestyle, be sure to ask your medical team. 

Choose who you share the news with

After the shock of the diagnosis wears off, share the news with someone you trust. Opening up to a loved one or friend can help ease the burden of your diagnosis and make you feel less alone. Explaining what you understand so far is a good way to help you process your own thoughts and if you’re in a spiral of anxiety or guilt, it will calm you. 

Let the people you share the news with ask questions and offer support—they will be concerned and will want to reassure you. Not only that, they might want to change their own behaviour to help you out. A 2017 study by Virta Health found that 21% of people have changed their diet to support a friend or family member, while 32% help monitor their biomarkers.[7] 

It can be difficult sharing your diagnosis and being honest about your diabetes needs, especially with your boss and colleagues. A 2018 survey by Diabetes UK found that more than a third of people with diabetes had not told their employers about their diagnosis. [8] Don’t be afraid to be upfront but remember, it’s okay not to share everything with them. What you say is up to you—it’s your journey and no one else’s.

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Set concrete goals to manage type 2 diabetes

Rather than trying to wish or will your diagnosis away, set realistic and manageable goals to beat away the blues and any shame you may be feeling. From diet to exercise, making changes can help reduce the risk of complications of diabetes, and may even put your diabetes into remission.

Goal setting encourages a person to try harder and for longer periods of time

Strecher et al., Health Edu Q

Setting clear objectives and aiming for them can give you the motivation you need when shame is holding you back. Recognising that it might be getting in your way is a good place to start, but having a concrete list of your aims can help keep you accountable and track your progress. Research has even shown that ‘goal setting encourages a person to try harder and for longer periods of time’. [9] 

Habitual patients reiterate the power of setting goals, with one member saying they now have the tools to improve their relationship with diabetes, as well as the encouragement and knowledge that they can. “I feel so much better, so it’s making me behave differently and be more active because I feel better and look better, and I’m better equipped to maintain this,” they say. So, the more you achieve your goals and feel great about those triumphs, the more likely you are to keep going!

Connect with other people living with type 2 diabetes

Although telling your circle about your diagnosis is important, finding others who also have type 2 diabetes is a life-affirming way to connect and get support. As you adjust to a new way of doing things, there may be slip-ups on the way and having a group of people on the same journey to turn to can help you stay motivated as you get settled into new habits. You may even make new friends! Ask your healthcare providers to point you in the direction of diabetes support groups in your local area or online.

Be kind to yourself

Doing things that are good for your mental and emotional wellbeing can help you come to terms with your diabetes diagnosis, and shed the shame you may be feeling. “If you're newly diagnosed, make some space for rest and relaxation so you can embark on a new conversation with your body with confidence and courage,” says Dr Silja Voolma, our in-house health psychologist. This could be anything from a walk in nature, to making something with your hands—setting aside time to nourish yourself is key. 

Building a positive relationship with yourself and your diabetes management can feel like a major mountain to climb, but you will get there. You may find that positive self-talk (for example, repeating affirmations like ‘I’m doing my best,’ and ‘I deserve to feel healthy’), meditation, and mindfulness can all help you reach a better place after your diagnosis. Research from 2011 found that people with disorders involving excessive shame and guilt can benefit from mindfulness, especially when it works to emphasise self-compassion and acceptance. [10]

Receiving a type 2 diabetes diagnosis is a huge life adjustment, so give yourself the space and time to process it, and remember—it is absolutely not your fault.

References

[1] Diabetes diagnosis doubles in the last 15 years. Diabetes UK. Retrieved 26 January 2021. Accessible here.

[2] Perrin, N. E., Davies, M.J., N. Robertson, et al. (2017). The prevalence of diabetes-specific emotional distress in people with Type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetic Medicine 34(11): 1508-1520. Accessible here

[3] Skinner, T. C., Joensen, L., Parkin, T. (2019). Twenty‐five years of diabetes distress research. Diabetic Medicine. Accessible here.

[4] Liu, N. F., Brown, A. S., Folias, A.E. et al. (2017). Stigma in People With Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes. Clinical diabetes : a publication of the American Diabetes Association. 35 (1): 27–34. Accessible here.

[5] Kalra S., Jena, B. N., Yeravdekar, R. (2018). Emotional and Psychological Needs of People with Diabetes. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism. 22(5): 696–704. Accessible here.

[6] Ethnic disparities in the major causes of mortality and their risk factors – a rapid review. Gov.uk. Retrieved 26 January 2021. Accessible here.

[7] 76% of People with Type 2 Diabetes Feel Shame Around Their Diagnosis. Here's What We Can Do About It. Virta Health. Retrieved 26 January 2021. Accessible here.

[8] One in six people with diabetes discriminated against at work. Diabetes UK. Retrieved 26 January 2021. Accessible here.

[9] Strecher, V.J., Seijts, G.H., Kok, G.J.,  et al. (1995). Goal Setting as a Strategy for Health Behavior Change. Health Edu Q 22(2):190-200. Accessible here

[10] Keng, S. L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clinical psychology review. 31(6): 1041–1056. Accessible here

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