Diabetes is a complex and chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Yet, many individuals with diabetes experience discrimination, stigmatization, and otherness.


What Is Otherness?

I was first introduced to the concept of “Otherness” about 15 years ago during one of my photography classes. “Othering” is a method of grouping people by their differences rather than their similarities, usually by their culture, creed, gender, or physical appearance.

Othering has existed since the early days of humans as a means of categorizing people as superior or inferior. It continues in so many areas of life today – including diabetes. I notice it in the diabetes context often, and I think it’s time we talk about it.


What Does ‘Othering’ Look Like in the Diabetes Context?

I define the otherness of diabetes as a social idea among those who are not experiencing diabetes.

Most of them believe that people with diabetes are not of the “norm” and are defective, weak, or flawed. And the reality is, they do not even realize they are making these judgments.

This type of discrimination affects people’s mental and physical health and adds to the harmful cycle of shame and guilt around a diabetes diagnosis.


Understanding the Otherness of Diabetes

I decided to write this article because every time someone asks what I do, and I tell them about my work at Diapoint, their body shifts. Then they proceed to tell me, “Oh yes, diabetes is a very big problem in this country. ‘These people’ are so unhealthy and live unhealthy lifestyles.”

I cringe even more when they tell me I must be making so much money, or find myself so overworked because “everyone here has diabetes.”

They immediately label people with diabetes as different, defective, or a burden to society. This stigma really negates their identity. In these conversations, people with diabetes are often portrayed as lazy, unhealthy, or undisciplined, and blamed for their condition.

If people with diabetes heard this, it would most certainly affect their self-esteem, mental health, and quality of life.


Challenging Stigma and Misconceptions

To stop the otherness of diabetes, we need to challenge these stigma and misconceptions.

I often do this by reminding people that this is not just about “those people.” It is about all of us. I often get some confused looks.

If they are still listening, I take more of an educational approach and highlight that diabetes is a challenge for the entire world. Not just one country, one city, culture or region.

If I tell them my child was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 20 months old and explain how that had nothing to do with his lifestyle, the conversation shifts a little bit. I feel like they still want to categorize him into another “Other” box somehow, but that is hard to do. It does typically outrage me a bit more because I am once again reminded how big their discrimination is.

I continue to advocate and talk about the complexities of diabetes and its onset and management. Diabetes is not a personal failure or weakness. Type 1 Diabetes has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. And there are many genetic factors and elements in modern day living that could create the perfect storm for someone to develop Type 2 Diabetes.


Promoting Inclusivity and Support

Another way to stop the otherness of people diabetes is to promote inclusivity and support.

This can be done by creating safe spaces that allow people with diabetes to connect, share experiences, and support each other.

It can also be done by raising awareness about the specific needs and challenges of people with diabetes.

By promoting a culture of acceptance and support, we can reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with diabetes.


Empowering People with Information

Empowering people with diabetes is another critical step in stopping the otherness of diabetes.

This can be done by providing access to education, resources, and support that help people with diabetes manage the condition and improve their quality of life.

By empowering people with diabetes, we can challenge the otherness of diabetes and promote a culture of self-care, resilience, and self-determination.

In parallel, empowering those without diabetes can also have a similar effect. They are very much in need of quality information to bust the myths of misconceptions.


Building Bridges and Allies

Finally, stopping the otherness of diabetes requires building bridges and allies across diverse communities and stakeholders.

Diabetes affects people of all ages, genders, races, and socio-economic backgrounds, and it requires a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to address it effectively.

By working together, we can reduce the barriers of otherness, promote empathy and understanding, and create a world where diabetes is not a source of stigma, discrimination, or otherness.

If you are a physician, healthcare provider or someone working in the health and wellness space, I invite you to join me in promoting a culture of acceptance, understanding, and support for people with diabetes.

When you see or hear someone othering a person, or a population with diabetes, please call it out and challenge it.

It is our duty to help reduce otherness and create a world where people with diabetes are not stigmatized or discriminated against.


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