When Rachel Kerstetter woke up the morning of Aug. 11, 2011, she knew something was wrong. Kerstetter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that causes a person’s pancreas to produce little or no insulin a hormone that converts sugar into the energy we need to survive. As with other diseases, such as mental illness, a general lack of information causes many to misunderstand and judge those with diabetes.
Kerstetter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that causes a person’s pancreas to produce little or no insulin — a hormone that converts sugar into the energy we need to survive. Doctors found high glucose and ketones in her urine, and after a three-night stay in the hospital, she was released with basic instructions for insulin shots, along with some dietary guidelines. For the past few years, she has used an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor to keep her blood sugar in check.
As with other diseases, such as mental illness, a general lack of information causes many to misunderstand and judge those with diabetes. People often combine the disease’s different types under one umbrella term, and hold various misconceptions, like the idea that diabetes results from unhealthy eating habits.
Type 1 diabetes used to be called “juvenile diabetes,” because diagnoses usually (but not always) occur in young children and adolescents. The term drives Kerstetter crazy.
In contrast, type 2, formerly known as “adult onset diabetes,” occurs when a person’s body resists the effects of insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood glucose level. Obesity and diet, which come with their own stigmas, are risk factors that can trigger type 2 diabetes; however, genetics, ethnicity and age play a larger role. With both type 1 and type 2, a person inherits a predisposition to the disease, while environmental factors, such as viruses or obesity, can trigger it. Latinos, American Indians and Asian-Americans are more at risk for type 2 diabetes than whites are, and the risk increases with age.
Clara Schneider, advisor at DiabetesCare.net and a certified diabetes educator for the past 15 years, often sees stigma in her line of work. A nurse and dietitian, Schneider teaches people with diabetes about their disease, including calculating meal plans and teaching them how to inject insulin for the first time.
Bennet Dunlap, 56, says he often blames himself. He was diagnosed with pre-diabetes five years ago; at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he isn’t obese, though the common misconception is that he, in his words, had “too many doughnuts.”
According to a January 2013 report from the Australian Center for Behavioral Research in Diabetes, health care professionals consistently rated diabetes as one of the least stigmatized health conditions. This, the report argues, proves that health professionals who do not have diabetes often are not able to perceive the stigma surrounding it, and therefore contribute to that stigma. Read more…