Examining mental health and reducing stigma in diabetes

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes affects over 37 million people in the United States alone.

And mental health and stigma around the condition have been a serious issue.

Michigan Medicine researchers have been working to improve these psychosocial concerns related to diabetes through the Caswell Diabetes Institute, which often pose issues for people living with the condition.

Mental health help in diabetes

The Diabetes Mental Health Initiative, led by Briana Mezuk, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, helps ensure support is provided to the whole person – physical, spiritual, and emotional.

With regular input from patients and families, this initiative aims to improve access to and delivery of psychosocial support while creating a global hub designed to lead research, training and dissemination of best practices for addressing the emotional and mental health of persons living with diabetes across the lifespan.

Connected work by Kevin Joiner, Ph.D., R.N., an assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Biological Sciences of the U-M School of Nursing, is also aiming to reduce diabetes stigma for patients.

Advancing stigma-related research in diabetes

While the physical challenges of diabetes are well-documented, the toll taken by stereotypes and myths about diabetes is often overlooked.

People with diabetes may face negative and irrational attitudes, behaviors, and judgments about their condition.

This “stigma” can manifest in various ways, including people with diabetes experiencing societal discrimination in addition to negative feelings and thoughts about themselves due to their disease.

For those living with diabetes, these negative emotions and experiences are more common than might be realized.

“Many times when talking about my research, others will share a story about their own experience -or that of a loved one- and what they believe to be diabetes stigma,” Joiner said

Joiner is part of an international collaborative effort that’s underway to stand up this diabetes stigma by galvanizing support across multiple sectors of society, including health care, industry, families and communities.

Joiner and his team have developed and published a Spanish-language translation of the Type 2 Diabetes Stigma Assessment Scale (DSAS-2), a patient self-administered questionnaire for measuring diabetes stigma.

Using a simulated clinic environment through the HomeLab, the team is also piloting an intervention for healthcare providers who can play an important role in reducing diabetes stigma by being mindful of how some words can have negative meanings for people with diabetes and intentionally choosing words that are empowering.

These efforts, along with others, are prime examples of U-M research driving evidence-based patient-centered care and increasing support and resources for people living with diabetes.

If you are a healthcare provider in primary care and interested in being a part of this research, please take this self-guided screener or call 734-680-7864.

Written by Molly Dwyer-White.

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