This article was written exclusively for The European sting by Ms. Chan Yun Xin, currently a first-year medical student at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. It is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong strictly to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA on the subject, nor that of The European Sting.
“I don’t have as much sympathy for those struggling with diabetes if they refuse to put together a good health plan for themselves.”
A response from a medical student before a study on a contact-based educational approach to reduce diabetes stigma in medical education. The typical social stigma is that people with diabetes are classified as lazy and lacking in self-discipline.
The association of diabetes with unhealthy lifestyle factors related to diet and sedentary behavior had contributed to social stigma. While the public viewed diabetes as a lifestyle disease tied to personal responsibilities. An obstacle that denies them the realization of their full potential as members of society has deprived them of their rights and their quality of life. Obtaining a driver’s license, managing medical insurance policies, getting or keeping a job can be difficult because of unfair discrimination.
If only people could realize that the etiology of diabetes extends beyond diet and exercise, it includes genetic factors and social determinants of health such as access to food and primary health care. The exclusion, rejection and negative stereotypes associated with diabetes have led to lower self-esteem, lower quality of life and greater psychological distress, especially for those who internalize the stigma. Thus, prioritizing the psychosocial aspect of diabetes care is key to keeping discrimination and harassment at bay.
The fight against social stigma begins with understanding by emphasizing the need to educate people about the causes of diabetes as well as day-to-day management of the disease. For example, exposing the public to the diabetes community through social media and campaigns are the first steps to breaking down barriers. Instead of blaming people with diabetes, it increased understanding of the seriousness of diabetes and empathy for the difficulties in managing blood sugar.
Notice how the word people with diabetes is never mentioned here. Based on the ‘Language Matters’ guide published by the National Health Service in England, the aim is to refrain from using stigmatizing language both verbally and non-verbally. As healthcare professionals, we must realize that the way we communicate with and about our patients can reinforce or minimize the stigma experienced by people with diabetes. The key point is to avoid judgmental phrases and labeling people as their condition. For example, use “lives with” instead of “sick” and address them as “people with diabetes” instead of “diabetics”. The right words can go a long way in ensuring that the needs of people with diabetes are well recognized.
Discrimination in social life is just the tip of the iceberg of stigma experienced by people with diabetes. When it comes to increasing the number of people diagnosed with diabetes, innovative educational interventions are great approaches to making a difference in the psychosocial aspect of patient care in the future. Most importantly, stop being judgmental and be mindful of your words, because no one wants to be treated like “those people with diabetes.”
About the Author
Chan Yun Xin is currently a first-year medical student at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. She is determined to develop the clinical skills required to offer a holistic service to her future patients. Apart from medical treatment, it aims to take care of the well-being of patients and improve public awareness of health issues. The social stigma of illnesses and disabilities she witnessed while working at the hospital further inspired her to speak out against discrimination to protect patients’ rights to fair treatment from the society.