There are many physical and logistical challenges to living with diabetes. Blood glucose must be checked regularly, carbs should be counted, and insulin administered whenever needed. Simple things like exercising and eating require planning, as does travelling with diabetes-care equipment. When blood glucose is too high, it causes tiredness, irritability and trouble concentrating. Yet when it’s too low, it can be extremely dangerous.
This all adds up to a shadow side of diabetes that is not always acknowledged: the mental burden of living with the condition.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in any 18-month period, 33% to 55% of people with diabetes face feelings of distress about their condition. Discouragement, worry and frustration are common, in some cases leading to serious anxiety and even depression. The CDC estimates that people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to suffer from depression than people without diabetes. Family members of people with the condition also often struggle with the challenges of providing support.
Living with diabetes
As part of our work for World Diabetes Day 2020, we spoke about these challenges with two people from Pioneers Young, an online diabetes community we have co-founded in Sweden (our home country). Both have type 1 diabetes.
This is what each of them said:
“Type 1 diabetes not only affects your physical health. Between all the doctors’ visits, blood sugar scares, and multiple insulin injections, there is also the mental aspect of realising that your body has failed you. It’s not easy to accept each day that you have a deadly chronic illness. This is what often leads type 1 diabetics to their breaking point. But still, we find our way to get back up and live life to the fullest. If that’s not admirable, I don’t know what is.”
“Type 1 diabetes is a complex condition that not only affects the individual living with it, but also partners, family, colleagues, teachers and more. It’s a condition that is like the worst job ever: you don’t get a break, you don’t get paid, there is no vacation and no matter how hard you work, you’ll never do it 100% right. I’ve had type 1 diabetes for almost half my life now (I’ll be turning 28) and I’m TIRED. Wiped out. Yet somehow, I always seem to find a way forward. My type 1 is making life complicated, but it’s also making me strong.”
Facing diabetes together
To help raise awareness of this mental burden, for the month leading up to World Diabetes Day we have been running an Instagram campaign under the hashtag #str1ped. The concept is simple: for every diabetes-related thought or action within a given day, people draw a line on their hand. Then at the end of the day they upload a picture of their hand to Instagram. The campaign is a staggering visual testament to the mental impact of living with diabetes.
Another diabetes awareness initiative we are part of is the BEAT Diabetes Foundation, which Brighter (the company behind Actiste) founded earlier this year together with the Nordic Entertainment Group and the medical device company Abbott.
In addition to the people who are living with type 2 diabetes, the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden are all in the top 10 in incidence of type 1 diabetes. Many families across the region are touched by the condition, so the BEAT Diabetes Foundation sent Swedish television host and reporter Peter Jihde on a journey to meet them. Peter also has type 1 diabetes. His conversations with these families have been compiled into a documentary that will be shown at 20.00 CET on 14 of November 2020 on TV3 (in Sweden), as well as on Viaplay and Viafree.