Language Matters


Today is Day 3 of Diabetes Blog Week, an annual event in the diabetes online community created by Karen at BitterSweet Diabetes. Here is today’s prompt:

There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m willing to bet we’ve all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don’t care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let’s explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.

My guess is that everyone will be talking about “diabetic” versus “person with diabetes” today. I wrote about this a few weeks ago right here. In short, I feel that the word “diabetic” is a label, while the word diabetes describes me and empowers me.

Today, I want to talk about the power of Language. I believe that Language has the power to influence how diabetes is talked about in the public domain.

At Diabetes Exchange in Sydney last week, we spoke about the importance of credible diabetes reporting. There are so many people and groups on social media who are passionate about their cause – whether it be diabetes technology, diabetes diets, government funding or anything inbetween. Pick a cause, and you can probably find a tribe. I think that’s fantastic. I love that we have so much passion in our community.

Yet many of these messages aren’t conveyed in a credible or sensible manner. I come across many groups and comments on social media sharing sensationalised messages. These people are so passionate about their cause, that they will happily skew the truth in order to receive attention. These messages are often inaccurate, generate fear, and don’t really do anything to support people with diabetes.

However the sad reality is that the wider media eat up these sensationalised stories. The device that stops her from going unconscious overnight. The suffering boy who just saved his life with a shot of insulin. You get my drift.

These stories don’t really give a good representation of people with diabetes. People without any connection to diabetes make assumptions based on what they see reported. Perhaps that a person with diabetes is not fit to work. That a person with diabetes lives an unhealthy lifestyle. Or in some cases, that a person with diabetes could drop dead at any given moment! I don’t feel that it gives us a lot of hope.

Yet the success stories don’t receive enough attention. Where are all the people who are living relatively normal, happy lives with diabetes? Positivity can be a wonderful motivator for health, and I feel it’s sorely overlooked.

My point being, it starts with us. With you and with me. We have the power to shape how diabetes is talked about in the media and in the public domain. To borrow from Renza, Language Matters.

To read other posts related to today’s prompt, click here.

10 thoughts on “Language Matters

  1. Well said! Over-sensationalisation doesn’t help anyone. Following the cgm announcement the other day I saw it every where. I was never sure I agreed with it being hailed as a life saving device. I wear it a lot & it can’t stop all hypos….being called a life saving device just increases my personal frustration when I have to then explain it properly when I am almost accused of still having hypos despite wearing it. It also gives the public a sense that if we have it all our problems are solved.

    1. I’m also conflicted about CGM being called life-saving. I know that some people I know, and that’s especially applicable to parents of young kids, feel CGM may have saved their or their kids’ lives by alerting to a bad low that would have otherwise be missed or discovered much later. But then again, the reality is that dying from low blood sugar is rare. Fear is a powerful motivator to skew the facts.
      It is hard to explain to the public what our devices do. Many people are under the impression that the pump does everything by itself, life an AP would. It takes some explaining for them to realize how inaccurate that perception is.

  2. Love that we have the ability to provide a glimpse of what really living with d’ is like. Good to meet you through d’ blog week!

  3. I’ve been mulling these thoughts recently. I think that as a parent to a T1 my focus is sometimes too much on what he has to go through and that leads to me casting him in the role of a victim or sufferer. I’m trying hard to work on this as I know that it will do him no favours as an adult to be perceived to be at the mercy of his condition.

    On the other hand, these things are true. Insulin shots are life saving. An untreated hypo overnight can lead to unconsciousness. As a parent I want people to acknowledge this (partly for my son’s safety), then and only then can we move on to focus on the child’s achievements. That’s the stage we’re at.

    It’s a tricky one, but I love to hear adults with Type 1 express their views and find their language so I can explore the language my son and I might use going forward.

    I was reading this blog last night which is related to MS, but is very eloquent on the issues.

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