I was thrilled and honoured to speak in the symposium at #IDF2017 all about peer support. I shared the program with Chris Aldred, better known to all as The Grumpy Pumper, and advocate Dr Phylissa Deroze (you can – and should – find her as @not_defeated on Twitter).

Speakers in the peer support symposium at #IDF2017

When we were putting together the program for the symposium, the idea was that it would offer an overview of what peer support can look like, beginning with how diabetes organisations and community health groups can facilitate and offer a variety of peer support options, and rounding up with the perspectives of people with diabetes who provide and participate in peer support.

I spoke about how diabetes organisations in Australia, through the NDSS, offer a suite of peer support choices, urging the audience to think beyond the usual face-to-face or, increasingly, online peer support group. Activities such as camps for children and adolescents with diabetes, information events, education sessions (such as DAFNE) are all avenues for peer support. Peer support need not only take the form of a group of people sitting in a (real or virtual) room talking about diabetes in a structured or unstructured way. It can happen just by putting people with diabetes in the same space.

I’d never met Phylissa before, but I quickly learnt she is the definition of the word determined. She spoke eloquently about her own type 2 diabetes diagnosis which was anything but ideal. Instead of feeling beaten and overcome by how she had been let down by the healthcare system, she turned to her peers, finding a group that not only helped her diabetes management, but also gave her confidence to live well with diabetes.

Phylissa now facilitates an in-person support group for women with diabetes in Al Ain in the UAE, and is a huge supporter of, and believer in, the power and importance of peer to peer engagement and support in diabetes management. You can read more about Phylissa’s work on her website here.

Grumps, in true Grumps style, gave a talk about how his approach to peer support is more organic and certainly not especially structured. Although involved in some more planned peer support, he believes the most effective way he can support others with diabetes is on an individual, more informal way. Kind of like this:

Click image to see tweet.

And as if putting into practise his talk at the Congress, last week he started a conversation on Twitter about his own recent experiences of being diagnosed with an ulcer in his foot opening the door for people to speak about diabetes complications.

Click image to see tweet.

The way we speak about diabetes-related complications is often flawed. The first we hear of them is around diagnosis and they are held over us as a threat of the bad things to come if we don’t do as we are told. They are also presented to us with the equation of: Well-managed-diabetes + doing-what-the-doctors-say = no complications.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

From then on, complications are spoken of in hushed-voices or accusations. Blame is apportioned to those who develop them: obviously, they failed to take care of themselves.

And because of this, for many people, the diagnosis of a diabetes-related complication is accompanied by guilt, shame and feelings of failure when really, the response should be offers of support, the best care possible and links to others going through the same thing. Peer support.

Back to Grumps’ raising diabetes complications on Twitter. After sharing his own story, suggested that we should not be ashamed to talk about complications.

That was the catalyst others needed to begin volunteering their own stories of complications diagnoses. Suddenly, people were openly speaking about diabetes complications in a matter-of-fact, open way – almost as if speaking about the weather. Some offered heartfelt sympathies, others shared tips and tricks that help them. But the overall sentiments were those of support and camaraderie.

The recurring theme of the peer support symposium at the Congress was that we need to find others we can connect with in a safe space so we can speak about the things that matter to us. It’s not the role of any organisation or HCP to set the agenda – the agenda needs to be fluid and follow whatever people with diabetes need.


While we’re talking peer support, how great is it to see that the weekly OzDOC tweetchat is getting a reprise this week, with Bionic Wookiee, David Burren at the helm. Drop by if you are free at the usual time: Tuesday evening at 8.30pm (AEDT). I’ll be there!


I was the Deputy Lead for the Living with Diabetes Stream, and an invited speaker at the 2017 IDF Congress. The International Diabetes Federation covered my travel and accommodation costs and provided me with registration to attend the Congress.