What’s it Like Being a Youth Living With Diabetes?

This is a guest blog from David Sadleir, the President of the Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be a shock for all involved. Youth may feel depressed and discouraged by such a diagnosis. Type 1 diabetes presents a very steep learning curve; e.g., how and when to administer insulin and how much to inject each time. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes require immediate changes in diet and general lifestyle. Families face a new set of needs for grocery shopping and meal preparation.

In Canada, a family with a youth living with diabetes can face new costs approaching $12,000 per year or much higher. Normal routines are disrupted by the need to schedule regular visits to supporting medical professionals. Taking a trip or playing team sports, for example, requires new pre-planning considerations. The collective demands can be overwhelming and not surprisingly, the period of adjustment can be protracted and discouraging.

Adjustment, anxiety and various eating disorders are common mental health difficulties that arise in combination with youth-onset diabetes. Depression is noted by some to be the most common mental disorder occurring in youth living with diabetes. A related, but different, condition called Diabetes Stress or ‘burnout’ can arise as a result of the endless demand for management of diabetes.

Learning to thrive, not just survive, with diabetes requires commitment and a lot of help. Children and youth living with diabetes need support from family, healthcare providers, friends and peers. In school, they can experience bullying and humiliation and need in-school support processes and informed, empathetic help from teachers. All students living with diabetes need support to be safe at school and to have a positive and full educational experience. Teachers, staff and peer groups can help a student living with diabetes by:

  • understanding their challenges
  • understanding the technology devices they need to use
  • helping them to manage their condition successfully
  • being supportive and inclusive
  • being alert about and seeking immediate help for ‘sugar lows’

Our youth are our future. We all need to do what we can to help and protect them.

Raising awareness, helping youth and their families to understand their risks and how

to reduce them and urging them to ‘get tested’ early are the available practical actions.

The Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation (SFBLF), keeps alive the legacy of Sir Frederick, the co-discoverer of insulin, through preservation of his historic birthplace in Alliston, ON, Canada and by delivering educational and award programs. SFBLF offers 18 programs to fight diabetes with the primary focus on disease prevention and disease self-management through classroom and online education, process innovation, selective advocacy and sustained youth-focused support. Helping to mitigate the in-school challenges faced by youth living with diabetes; and their often daunting ‘transition’ from paediatric to adult healthcare are key priorities.

In February 2019, the foundation launched its ́National Recognition Award Program ́ for Canadian schools which is designed to create an incentive for early and sustained implementation of essential In-School Support programs for students living with diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2).

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