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How to support a friend with diabetes

“One of my best friends is a Type 1 diabetic and she often skips taking her insulin to keep her weight down… I know this is going to cause her long-term damage, but I don’t know how to convince her to look after herself better. Any advice?” Sune Terblanche.

Dear Sune,

One of my favourite quotes is by Seneca: “One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”  How lucky your friend is to have you. Teenagers are inclined to focus on one thing and not see the bigger picture. Your friend is most probably also feeling the peer pressure of other girls to be thin.

Teenagers are sometimes just tired of medicine as well. They get frustrated and even feel embarrassed by having diabetes and having to test and take shots and make excuses for not eating cake and drinking cooldrinks. At some stage they just decide to stop using insulin. Stopping insulin makes it easy to lose weight which seems like the ultimate solution.

Without insulin, the body cannot break down sugars from food to use as energy. So it breaks down fat already stored and flushes out the excess sugar through the urine. This leads to weight loss, but it also causes nerve damage, damaged eyesight, kidney damage and osteoporosis, amongst other things.

Being a good friend isn’t always easy, but taking the time to look after a lasting friendship is worth every ounce of effort. The big thing is to be honest. To be a good friend and get her trust, you have to be honest about your feelings and her actions. If you’re honest about how you feel, that will open up direct lines of communication with her and help her talk to you about skipping insulin and how you can help her stop doing this.

You owe it to your friend to start a conversation about it. Being honest is different from being so blunt that you’re hurting your friend. Try not to nag or police her, but use opportunities to point out to her what she is doing to herself. Reinforce the fact that you care about her and ask her how you can help. Remind her that she is brave enough to face the challenge that diabetes has brought into her life. Remind her that everyone is an individual.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

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