Sometimes, something happens at a diabetes conference that I need to sit on for a while before I can write or talk about it. At ADA this year (almost six weeks ago now), there was a moment that has stuck with me and I think it’s time to talk about it.

I was sitting in the front row of the language session – because, of course I was – eager to hear from the all-star panel that was going to be looking at the language issues from the perspective of the PWD and HCP, as well as look at the role HCPs play in addressing diabetes stigma and how they can improve communication. I loved the well-rounded approach the session was taking, and settled in for a couple of hours of discussion.

The line-up was a veritable A-list of the best voices in the space. We had ‘Jane squaredhttps://diabetogenic.wordpress.com/2019/06/08/greetings-from-san-francisco-and-ada2019/, with Dickinson and Speight book-ending the program, Joe Solowiejczyk giving the consumer side and Kevin Joiner providing strategies for dismantling stigma.

Jane Dickinson has been an absolute champion of the diabetes #LanguageMatters movement in the US. And it was in her introductory session that the moment of today’s post happened. Jane was speaking about how HCPs see diabetes and people living with the condition. And she showed this slide:

I can’t remember if Jane read out the quotes. But I do remember how I felt as I read them and took in what they meant. I felt beaten.

As people living with diabetes, so many of us have firsthand experience of hearing these sorts of comments directed to us. Or we have had friends with diabetes tell us their tales. Or we have heard passing comments from HCPs expressing similar sentiments. The idea that we don’t care, have brought it all on ourselves, deserve what we have coming – and conversely, don’t deserve care – us pervasive through the diabetes landscape.

This is how diabetes and those of us are living with it are perceived. And it is heartbreaking.

There is no consistency as to who is making these comments – healthcare professionals from all different disciplines, at different stages of their careers, with different experiences. Some work in tax-funded settings, others in private settings. They are considered the best in their field, they are held up as examples of excellent care. Other HCPs refer PWD to them.

Often, I hear people say that these attitudes are really only ever the thoughts of ’old school’ HCPs who have been around for a long time; it’s a throwback to the patriarchal attitudes of healthcare – to days when doctor or nurse knows best and ‘patient’ does what they are told, and if they don’t, they get told off, while being written off as not caring for themselves.

But that assessment is actually not true at all. Some of the most sensitive and tuned-in HCPs I know have been working in diabetes for many, many years.

And some are yet to have even started their career. In exactly the same way that diabetes doesn’t discriminate, it seems that these horrid attitudes and stigmatising comments can come from people at every stage of their career.

Here is the whole slide.

That’s right. These comments came from future nurses. They hadn’t even set foot on the wards yet as qualified HCPs. But somehow, their perceptions of people with diabetes were already negative, and so full of bias. Already, they have a seed planted that is going to grow into a huge tree of blaming and shaming. And the people they are trusted to help will be made to feel at fault and as though they deserve whatever comes their way.

This – THIS – is why I am not stopping banging on about language and diabetes. THIS is why I get frustrated when someone responds to – and reduces – a discussion about this issue with ‘But I/my kid is happy to be called (a) diabetic’. THIS is why I constantly highlight when people or organisations or people in the media are using stigmatising or negative language.

The words we use shape the attitudes we have, and the attitudes held by many about diabetes are disgraceful. Imagine if instead of mindsets like this, HCPs came out of their training with the idea that people with diabetes need support, education, information, compassion and skills to best manage a condition that no one, but no one, ever asked for Just think about how different – and better – that could be.

The ADA session ended perfectly – with Jane Speight (my personal diabetes #LanguageMatters hero) playing the Mytonomy ‘Changing the Conversation’ video. So, here’s that video again. Watch it. Share it.

 

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