This Thursday is World Health Day and the spotlight for 2016 is being shone on diabetes. In the next few days, we can expect to see diabetes mentioned in the media a lot. There will be numbers describing the size of the ‘epidemic’, there will be scary pictures and there will be threats about what will happen if we don’t all act NOW.

Much of what is written will be by journalists who do not have an in depth knowledge of diabetes, so the chance of them getting it wrong – or, at least, not finessing the details – is pretty high.

What upsets me most is when people with diabetes are not represented particularly accurately. I don’t like the pity party often thrown for us – especially because once we get there, the only food served is sugar free. And carrot not in the form of cake.

Seeing myself referred to as a ‘sufferer’ or ‘victim’ infuriates me, and the assumptions and the blame and stigma associated with a diabetes diagnosis makes me even madder.

Those of us living with diabetes (or with someone with diabetes) understand just how much language matters when talking about diabetes.

There are tools available that can point journalists in the right direction when speaking about and to people with diabetes – and the issue of diabetes.

The terrific Team Novo Nordisk has made real strides with providing the media outlets covering the team with some practical tips and a ‘Guide to Communicating About Diabetes.’

And, of course, the Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement* is also a valuable resource that offers suggestions of language and words that motivate and empower people living with diabetes, highlighting how negative and inaccurate language can be harmful and discouraging.

 

The fact that World Health Day is focusing on diabetes is a good thing in my mind, because it means that people are talking about diabetes. And if we can, in some small way, shape the dialogue – or at least, shape the language being used when speaking about diabetes – the outcome may be a better representation of life with diabetes. We can bust myths, set the record straight and explain how paralysing diabetes-related stigma can be.

This is not only about defining the different types of diabetes, although there are times in the dialogue that would be helpful. It is about offering a fair, precise and considerate picture. And it is about remembering that even when talking about huge, scary numbers that clearly define the issue, there are people involved who are living with diabetes every single day, doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt.

So, with this in mind, I am making a slight pre-emptive strike and asking that anyone writing about diabetes does so in an accurate and respectful way. I will be tweeting throughout the week using the hashtag #LanguageMatters and, when I see examples of writing that is neither accurate nor respectful, will be tweeting the journalist and source directly. I won’t be aggressive; I won’t be angry. But I will call them out.

If it’s something you are interested in, please get on board. Let us tell the real story of diabetes OUR way. #LanguageMatters  
*I work for Diabetes Australia, however at the time this position statement was developed, I worked for Diabetes Victoria. During the writing of this statement, I provided some comment (from a consumer perspective) to the ACBRD team who composed the position statement. The ACBRD is a collaboration between Diabetes Victoria and Deakin University.

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