Partner’s Corner

How to help a friend with diabetes

I would like to know to help and support a friend who has diabetes. My friend is a Type 1 diabetic and I’m not always sure how to help him in the tough times.” Markus Vorster

Hi Markus,

You have not said how old your friend is, but much of the basics stay the same. Here are 7 ways to support your friend with diabetes.

  1. First of all, treat your friend like anyone else. It is important for him to realise that his diabetes makes absolutely no difference to your friendship. If your friend is having trouble accepting his condition, be supportive and understanding.
  2. Try not to ‘mother’ him, but do encourage him to look after himself.
  3. Understand that people with diabetes are more prone to mood swings and depression than those who do not have diabetes.
  4. Learn to be able to recognise when his blood sugar goes too low, and know what to do in case he needs help.
  5. Remember, really tough times for diabetics are when they are sick. Blood glucose levels bounce up and down and this makes them feel more ill.
  6. Give him all your support by understanding his condition to the best of your ability.
  7. Get the facts and go beyond the myths and misinformation by talking to your friend, your doctor, or relatives who have diabetes.

As a friend, your understanding and acceptance are very important. The more you understand his circumstances, the less alone your friend is likely to feel.

Empathise, but never sympathise.

Good luck!

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Teens with Type 1

Teenagers with Type 1 diabetes feel especially isolated and alone. It’s bad enough dealing with body changes and hormonal issues, but add to that testing blood sugar, keeping tabs on what you eat and injecting yourself, as well as mood swings, and you can see why teens with Type 1 have a lot to deal with. Understanding what goes into diabetes means you can help your teen feel less self-conscious and different from everyone else.

Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash

Mood swings in people with diabetes

What can you guys tell me about mood swings in Type 1s? Happy the one day, negative the next? What advice do you have for partners of diabetics on how to handle these mood changes?” Lynne van der Spuy

Dear Lynne,

Mood swings are common in people with diabetes for both emotional and physical reasons. Anger and anxiety are normal reactions when someone has a chronic condition: it’s a lot to cope with, and at times overwhelming. Problems with poor control can cause stress levels to climb, leading to a vicious cycle of high glucose levels and fear about managing the condition. In fact, the emotional impact of diabetes is so vast that the risk of depression is doubled.

Physically, when someone’s sugar spikes or drops, it can actually produce feelings of anger and anxiety that are really out of their control. It can also make it harder to concentrate and cause fatigue, which would make anyone feel down. Stressful situations alter the body’s management of glucose, which can result in unstable blood sugar, so you may notice that mood swings worsen.

How to handle a mood swing:

  • Communication is vital. Address the issue when your partner is in a good frame of mind.
  • Explain your frustration and say that you understand mood swings are part of diabetes, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Make sure you feel heard; that’s important for your emotional well-being!
  • Ask your partner to check blood sugar during a mood swing, and correct if necessary.
  • Try to stay calm and avoid getting drawn into a fight; walk away if you need to.
  • Long term: encourage good diabetic control, and think about seeing a counsellor if the emotional issues remain difficult.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator