Language is a powerful tool. It’s a way of communication and expressing emotions. Certain words we hear have negative connotations associated with them such as disease or sufferer. Similarly, labelling a group of people can often generate negativity particularly if it’s used as a stereotype. Psychology suggests that we naturally group people together as it’s too much effort to get to know each person individually. Perhaps this was pertinent in the old days where coming up against a different group of people could spell death. But there’s no need for negative connotations when it comes to health conditions. And it’s about time that we got rid of some of those terms in the diabetes community.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve been fairly lucky not to have encountered a whole lot of name calling. But I’ve definitely heard many stories from those who had experienced being known as ‘that diabetic’. Diabetes isn’t the only health condition to face this issue. I’ve heard patients with dementia being referred to as ‘demented’. It broke my heart. Last week, I sat in on a diabetes prevention education workshop for a weight loss group. Encompassed within the audience were a few people already living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. As the facilitator proceeded to explain why not everyone was elligible to enrol into this program, the cringe factor settled in. Here’s a summary of what was said: ‘We believe that all diabetics should be included in this program. We don’t exclude them from sitting in. But this program primarily aims to prevent you from becoming diabetics, so the funding is only for non-diabetics. However, that being said, this program is about healthy lifestyle choices that all diabetics should be following anyway. The only difference is that the diabetics in the room won’t receive a booklet but we can provide copies for you…‘ Not exact words from the faciliatator but more or less that’s what it was. I was horrified. Being called a diabetic is something I don’t encounter daily nor is it a term I like using. Being grouped as part of ‘the diabetics’ was even worse. To have it directed at you from a stranger was almost insulting.
In 2011, Diabetes Australia released a position statement on the language used around diabetes, which can be accessed here. Diabetes Australia recognised the impact of negative language contributing to emotional distress of people living with diabetes. Language represents an attitude, which can influence a person’s self-confidence and motivation. Being labelled as a diabetic made me feel like there was something wrong with me. Maybe I am pancreatically challenged but I am still a person. It worries me that in some healthcare practices this is the norm. Although it may be easier to identify a person through their condition, that doesn’t mean it’s right for them to be stripped of their identity. So to everyone dealing with people living with various health conditions out there, please take a moment to see the person behind their health condition. This is what will separate you from being just another healthcare provider to a healthcare professional.
I am not a diabetes sufferer. I am a person with diabetes.