I usually don't discuss my diabetes and mental health with anyone besides my parents, psychologist and very few close friends. It's a tricky topic and it often makes people uncomfortable because they simply don't know how to respond. Usually when someone comes to us with a concern, we are able to draw from our experiences to listen with empathy and act as a sounding board/support. But when you add in diabetes, people start looking like a deer caught in headlights. Suddenly the link that helps them develop empathy vanishes, and it becomes a very awkward experience. Here's some strategies that I would find comforting from friends and family. This may not apply to everyone, but it's a good starting point.
Talking to your friend/family member about their diabetes and mental health 101:
- Please don't freak out if we say our management is lapsing a little. This is a time for support and understanding, not a time for panic stricken faces and "but you're still managing it right? RIGHT?!" Yes it's serious, but there are other ways to help. Maybe try asking them what's making the management hard right now, or problem solve to find a way to get some help managing.
- Now is not the time for stories about Great Aunt Mildred who lost her foot and died of kidney failure. I know you're trying to be empathetic by relating it to something you know, but you're digging a very deep hole.
- Please don't behave as though T1 is the simplest thing in the world to manage and that after having it for X number of years we should be pro at it. It's not easy, regardless of time post diagnosis. By saying this you're telling us that we don't have a right to feel this way. Everyone has a right to their thoughts and feelings.
- Please don't try and shift the topic straight away because you're feeling uncomfortable. This person has trusted you with something very personal and important. If you don't feel comfortable, at least offer them someone else to speak to who is better equipped.
- We might not be coming to you to fix it. You can't "fix" diabetes. Wanting to fix it comes from a good place, but sometimes we just want to talk about it.
- Understand that you can't understand my experiences entirely, just like I can't understand yours. Why? Because I haven't lived them. This doesn't mean you can't help, but there's a difference between offering support and claiming to know exactly how someone feels.
- Treat them as you would any other loved one who comes to you with these concerns. The diabetes doesn't make much of a difference, it's just a different challenge.
T1 is frustrating, upsetting, depressing, anxiety inducing and much much more. Having support is crucial. Creating a safe space to talk about these things is important, as sometimes it's hard to start the conversation. So what's the take home message?
Listen, don't assume, and acknowledge that it's okay for your friend/family member to feel the way they feel. Chances are that's all they need to hear.