Supporting people with diabetes and COVID-19-related worries

According to a new report published in Diabetic Medicine, COVID-19-related worries about diabetes are very common, but there are practical ways we can support people

By Dr Edith Holloway

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has turned the lives of people around the world upside down. Yet, for those living with diabetes, the impact of COVID-19, including social distancing measures and restrictions, may heighten feelings of distress, worry, anxiety and isolation. Evidence suggests that people with diabetes are at a greater risk, than the general population, of experiencing more severe COVID-19-related symptoms if they contract the virus. So, it is only natural for people with diabetes to feel anxious and concerned about managing their diabetes and staying healthy.

A recent survey of 1396 adults with diabetes led by Lene Eide Joensen at the Steno Diabetes Center, Copenhagen (published in Diabetic Medicine, May 2020) found that COVID-19-specific worries related to diabetes are very common. Participants in the study most frequently reported concerns about being at a greater risk of COVID-19 symptoms if they became infected, being stigmatised as a high-risk group because of their diabetes, and not being able to manage diabetes if they become infected with COVID-19.

These findings may have relevance for people with diabetes in Australia. According to an invited commentary by Professor Tim Skinner and Professor Jane Speight published in the same issue of Diabetic Medicine, “these concerns are valid, and people are right to feel worried about this”.

Both reports highlight important ways that we can support people with diabetes during these unprecedented times. For example, COVID-19 restrictions can impact on people’s sense of loneliness and isolation, especially with regard to managing their diabetes. This points to the value of peer support for people with diabetes, especially those who live alone, are older in age or have co-morbid health conditions.

Rather than using stigmatising language (e.g. ‘cases’, ‘victims’), we can communicate support and encouragement to people with diabetes, and others who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a guide about preventing and minimising social stigma and notes that stigmatising language ‘might contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread’.

Finally, it is important for people with diabetes to have access to timely and informative information regarding COVID-19, to best help them manage their anxieties

The ‘Managing Worry About COVID-19 and Diabetes’ factsheet (adapted from work by Dr Rose Stewart and Sophie Augarde, NHS Wales) is a useful tool to support people with diabetes. The key message is to focus on managing the things that are within your control, including: keeping up to date with information and advice from trusted sources, remembering to take care of your emotional well-being and seeking support if you need it.

If you are worried about COVID-19 and your diabetes, check out this NDSS leaflet about Managing worry about COVID-19 and diabetes.

To find out about peer support check out the NDSS leaflet about peer support.

For more about emotional and mental health, read our other blogs here.

For more about COVID-19, read our other blogs here.

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