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RESOURCES

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SOCIAL STIGMA IN DIABETES

A FRAMEWORK TO UNDERSTAND A GROWING PROBLEM FOR AN INCREASING EPIDEMIC

A comprehensive understanding of the social and psychological impact of diabetes mellitus is important for informing policy and practice. One potentially significant, yet under-researched, issue is the social stigma surrounding diabetes. This narrative review draws on literature about health-related stigma in diabetes and other chronic conditions in order to develop a framework for understanding diabetes-related stigma. Our review of the literature found that people who do not have diabetes assume that diabetes is not a stigmatized condition. In contrast, people with diabetes report that stigma is a significant concern to them, experienced across many life domains, e.g., in the workplace, in relationships. The experience of diabetes-related stigma has a significant negative impact on many aspects of psychological wellbeing and may also result in sub-optimal clinical outcomes for people with diabetes. We propose a framework that highlights the causes (attitudes of blame, feelings of fear and disgust, and the felt need to enforce social norms and avoid disease), experiences (being judged, rejected, and discriminated against), and consequences (e.g., distress, poorer psychological well-being, and sub-optimal selfcare) of diabetes-related stigma and also identifies potential mitigating strategies to reduce diabetes-related stigma and/or enhance coping and resilience amongst people with diabetes. The systematic investigation of the experiences, causes, and consequences of diabetes-related stigma is an urgent research priority.

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This study quantitatively measures diabetes stigma and its associated psychosocial impact in a large population of U.S. patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes using an online survey sent to 12,000 people with diabetes. A majority of respondents with type 1 (76%) or type 2 (52%) diabetes reported that diabetes comes with stigma. Perceptions of stigma were significantly higher among respondents with type 1 diabetes than among those with type 2 diabetes, with the highest rate in parents of children with type 1 diabetes (83%) and the lowest rate in people with type 2 diabetes who did not use insulin (49%).
Our results suggest that a disturbingly high percentage of people with diabetes experience stigma, particularly those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who are on intensive insulin therapy. The experience of stigma disproportionately affects those with a higher BMI, higher A1C, and poorer self-reported blood glucose control, suggesting that those who need the most help are also the most affected by stigma.

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This report is based on interviews with 52 adults with diabetes (type 1 and type 2) and national surveys of 1,078 adults with type 1 diabetes (aged 18-75 years) and 1,264 adults with type 2 diabetes (aged 22-75 years). 
The data were collected and analysed by: Dr Jessica Hateley-Browne, Dr Elizabeth Holmes-Truscott, Dr Kylie Mosely, Ms Jasmine Schabert, Dr Adriana Ventura and Professor Jane Speight. Sources are provided at the end of this report.

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