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Consider the Emotions of Diabetes

Posted: June 2, 2011

As educators, it is important for us to keep in mind the broad scope of emotions brought on by the diagnosis of diabetes. Bill Polonsky, PhD, CDE is the Founder and CEO of Behavioral Diabetes Institute and has some helpful suggestions for educators.

In a recent newsletter released by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, the focus was placed on Coping with Diabetes: From Onset and Forward. When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, the emotions that follow can be overwhelming. As Dr. Polonsky explains, for a person with type 1, it is really like being given a new job since the aspects of care require constant attention without a break. For people diagnosed with type 2, the issue is really more related to shame and guilt since they can still sometimes be made to feel responsible for getting the disease.

Unlike with type 1, people with type 2 are not usually shocked at the time of diagnosis. Usually, there is a family history and so there may have already been a resignation to the fact that they were probably going to get it anyway. As they try to balance taking care of their health with the desire to do what they would like to in a spontaneous way, there may be an inconsistency as they go back and forth with finding a comfortable medium. What can happen, though, is that there are feelings of depression, loneliness and isolation as well as being confused and discouraged. Left unchecked, this can progressively turn to despair and hopelessness.

Dr. Polonsky recommends that it is vitally important not to overwhelm people with too much information that might lead to a sense of "paralysis". Since it is not possible to change everything, he recommends helping them to identify what will give them the biggest "bang for their buck". He emphasizes that people who attend classes or seek out diabetes education are not unmotivated to live a long and healthy life. What is most important is to help them identify the barriers to change and to help them develop the skills to overcome them. Dr. Polonsky quotes William Butler Yeats: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." This is a great focal point for all educators, but particularly provides perspective for diabetes educators and how we can be most effective in helping people process the emotions related to a diagnosis of diabetes.