Type 2 Diabetes: how to explain your condition to those around you

Being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes as an adult can lead to challenging moments. Not only do you have to deal with the physical effects of your diagnosis, you also have to consider many other important management decisions, such as who you will tell and how best to explain the condition to those around you.

Some people are happy to tell everyone that they have diabetes and what the implications are. Others are not so keen, and prefer to keep the diagnosis to themselves. The choice is yours, however, there are a few situations that arise in daily life where it can be beneficial to advise those around you that you have diabetes.

Why should you inform people around you?

Nurse and diabetes expert Jayne Lehmann said that when news about their diabetes is shared, many people are initially concerned about discrimination, but often end up establishing a positive support network around them.  She said when you decide to share the news, it’s important to be ready to deal with various different reactions from people and to take the time to explain some of the complexities of the condition.

“Diabetes is a confusing condition and can be easily misunderstood because of the different types. If you do decide to tell people, have a think about how you’d like to tell them. I typically recommend one on one conversations as it gives you the opportunity to provide the facts, and others the opportunity to ask questions.

“By giving people enough information to clear up misconceptions they can better understand the issues associated with diabetes and how they can support you moving forward,” Jayne says.

The importance of telling your loved ones

Diabetes is a 24-7 condition so making sure your loved ones know can be a crucial step in the successful management of the diagnosis. The key is to let your family and friends know what support you need and what you would like from them.

“Do consider your family history. If someone in your life has had a bad experience with diabetes in the past, it is possible that there could be some negative feelings associated with the condition,” Jayne said.

“People may have seen other family members struggle with diabetes and not necessarily realise that with the right lifestyle and education, you can prevent or delay many associated health problems down the track.”

In the workplace

Telling colleagues or your manager can also be daunting, but it’s often best that your employer is aware of your condition. When you apply for a position, not every company requires you to disclose this, but you should consider how diabetes will impact your ability to do the job.

It’s always best to be truthful as it provides the opportunity to explain the steps you take to manage your diabetes and any implications there may be for the job. That said, there are some positions which ask for medical disclosure when you sign up and these typically include the defence force, as well as the police, fire and ambulance services.

It’s also a good idea to consider whether you need to travel for work and how you will need to manage your diabetes while on the road – or if there are any insurance issues to consider.

For most jobs, telling your employer you have diabetes is not compulsory, but there are advantages to being honest. For example, it might be easier to negotiate breaks at the specific times that you need them.

“The other benefit of telling your workmates is that you can join forces with those who eat healthy food or exercise at lunchtime. This makes it much easier to make the right choices and you never know, there might be other people in your workplace who also want to go for a 15 minute walk at lunchtime. Group motivation can be very powerful,” Jayne said.

What language should you use to explain diabetes?

Jayne suggests using easy to understand terminology to explain diabetes to those around you.

To support this process, Jayne has prepared the following short summary which you might find useful:

“Diabetes is where a person’s body has a problem keeping their blood glucose levels in the normal range. This can make the levels go high sometimes and make them feel tired, lethargic, thirsty, increase urination, lead to blurred vision or generally feel a bit unwell.

On the other hand, if someone takes a certain type of medication or insulin, their blood glucose levels can drop too low if they are late for a meal, don’t eat enough carbohydrates or do more exercise than usual. This may make them feel hot, sweaty, shaky, emotional, confused and perhaps even look pale. It is important for people with diabetes to have their meals at regular times to help stabilise their levels especially if at risk of very low levels.

Other useful information to help explain diabetes to those around you

Jayne has also compiled this handy checklist for covering the key points about this complex condition. This helps those around you to have the right information and be able to provide the appropriate assistance should you need it.

  • Provide a simple explanation of what diabetes is (refer to above)
  • Explain what happens if you ‘go low’ – i.e. that you will need to check your level and eat something to help bring it back up
  • Discuss how they can help should a hypo occur
  • Stress the need for regular meal and break times to help you manage the condition
  • Explain what might happen if you ignore the symptoms of a hypo – such as symptoms becoming worse and that you may become confused or unconscious. In this instance, they will need to call an ambulance to help treat the hypo quickly
  • Explain that if you are eating something sweet, it may be because you are treating ‘a low’ or able to have treats sometimes
  • Discuss how checking your blood glucose levels only takes a few seconds and helps keep your condition under control
  • And most importantly, reassure them that most of the time you will have everything under control

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