Diabetes UK Helpline- Supporting the well-being of people with or at risk from diabetes or their friends or family

Diabetes UK Helpline- Supporting the well-being of people with or at risk from diabetes or their friends or family

This month, we had Caroliz, a counsellor from the Diabetes UK Helpline, come to talk to us about her work supporting the well-being of people with or at risk from diabetes or their friends or family. The Helpline has 9 counsellors, 8 in London and 1 in Glasgow. All calls go to the central Supporter Centre first, where they are assessed and then forwarded to the relevant department, such as the Advocacy team, the Online Support Forum team or the Helpline team. All calls are anonymous. The counsellors are not medically trained and do not give out clinical advice.

The Helpline provides:

  • Help in understanding the symptoms and managing diabetes, particularly for those newly diagnosed
  • Guidance on practical issues, such as travel, education and driving with diabetes
  • Support and advice, ie diets -there is so much conflicting information from health care professionals and in the media that it can be difficult to know what to eat with diabetes. The helpline can signpost people to the Diabetes UK website and the healthy eating guides.

There are many areas that diabetes can impact on and that people may need guidance about:

  • Emotional support – a diagnosis of diabetes can have a huge impact emotionally. A person may experience a sense of loss or grief for their old life, they may experience guilt or shame, particularly those with type 2 diabetes or they may feel overwhelmed by the sudden changes or the new limitations in their life.
  • Living with and managing diabetes – people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression as those in the general population. They are also twice as likely to experience fear and anxiety, as they may fear the here and now, such as hypoglycaemia or they may fear the long term, such as diabetes related complications.
  • Personal and professional relationships – diabetes may impact on relationships with family and/or friends, as they may want to be too involved or not involved enough. It can be difficult to strike the right balance. Relationships with employers may be impacted, as employers may wonder if the person with diabetes is still capable of fulfilling their duties. There are new relationships to be forged with health care professionals which are not optional.
  • Romantic relationships and sexual health – diabetes may cause erectile dysfunction in men or loss of libido in women. This can be seen as a taboo subject and as such, is often difficult to discuss.
  • Relationship with food – food is often linked to emotions. Diabetes has a positive impact on some people, as they use the opportunity to make lifestyle changes and become healthier as a result. For some, it has a more negative effect and can create a cycle of eating-->guilt/shame--> comfort eating --> weight gain --> poor glucose control -->guilt/shame, etc.
    There is a high incidence of eating disorders with type 1 diabetes. Although Diabulimia is not yet officially recognised, awareness is growing that many people with type 1 manipulate their insulin dosing to control their weight. This is an incredibly dangerous practice. DWED, Diabetics with Eating Disorders are campaigning to get the condition officially recognised.
  • Diabetes burn out – often people with diabetes can feel frustrated, defeated and/or overwhelmed by diabetes. This is very common, particularly with type 1 diabetes, where diabetes management is like a full-time job with no let up.
    There are many books on the subject. One to recommend is Diabetes Burn-out: What To Do When You Can’t Take It Anymore by William H Polonsky. There is also the Diabetes Distress Scale, used to differentiate between diabetes distress and depression. The scale can be found online here: http://behavioraldiabetes.org/xwp/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/The-DDS-with-scoring-recommendations-123116.pdf
  • Supervision, safeguarding and signposting – all calls to the helpline are confidential. Callers displaying suicidal ideation will be signposted to the Samaritans. The counsellors have monthly supervisory sessions to de-brief.

There are therapies that can help overcome some of the fear and anxiety of living with diabetes. These could include exercise, mindfulness or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Caroliz highly recommends cultivating self-compassion and being kind to yourself.