Time to Rethink National Diabetes Week?

As I watched the response towards an amputation-themed National Diabetes Week escalate late last week, I’ve been thinking about my own stance on Diabetes Australia’s campaign. I made my opinion clear though my vlog last Monday (which you can watch here), and have steered clear from most of the conversation since. While it was disappointing to see some of the commentary getting out of hand, it will not make me feel any less guilty for having an opinion of my own. 

Diabetes Australia advocates for the language used when talking about diabetes, and for the way it has the power to shape our thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. I support this wholeheartedly – both online and off. To quote Diabetes Australia’s Language Position Statement:

“Language needs to engage people with diabetes and support their daily self-care efforts. Importantly, language that de-motivates or induces fear, guilt or distress needs to be avoided and countered.”

I can’t help but feel that a campaign focussing on diabetes amputations does induce fear, guilt and distress, and contradicts this language position statement. Two diabetes educators in our community even went further to suggest this:

In my practice I’ll be working with newly diagnosed and people who have had diabetes for years and dealing with the heightened anxiety that comes from the strong messaging around this. Powerful messaging can do more harm than good and many people choosing this style of awareness campaign are often not at the clinical coal face dealing with the aftermath” – Ann Morris, Facebook.

“Diabetes distress is real and palpable when people talk about their fear of complications – especially in relation to the fear of foot or leg amputation. Fear is further fuelled by the negative campaign being run in this year’s Diabetes Awareness Week. We shouldn’t be surprised if they disengage about their risk or move to a default mode of thinking that they are ‘here for a good time not a long time’, then adopting behaviours that increase complication risk.” – Jayne Lehmann, Ed Health Australia.

Diabetes Australia admirably responded to some of the criticisms of the campaign in a Facebook post on Friday afternoon, which you can read here.

Diabetes Australia were campaigning for a Diabetes Amputation Prevention Initiative from our government to help prevent 85% of diabetes related amputations each year through early detection and proper care. We were also told that the campaign was not really about the person with diabetes, but to help make the broader public more aware of this issue.

While I don’t doubt the seriousness of this issue, I do question whether a very public National Diabetes Week campaign was the appropriate avenue for this lobbying. People don’t know enough about diabetes. People don’t know enough about what it is, what it entails, and how to best support those of us living with the condition. This was supposed to be our week, where we raise awareness and be proud of the condition we live with. A campaign focussing only on one issue – a negative one – does not achieve this. It only creates stigma.

I blogged about National Diabetes Week positively. I vocalised my feelings about the campaign with those around me. I enthusiastically followed the #NDW16 hashtag on Twitter all week. Yet from what I saw, very few people were actually jumping on board. Yes, there were plenty of automated-looking tweets from diabetes and health-related organisations. There were some retweets. However I saw very few people actually jumping in and talking about it.

Diabetes Queensland and Diabetes Victoria were both calling for submissions to their Diabetes Life Hacks and Diabetes Won’t Stop Me campaigns, and I don’t feel that either gathered the momentum they deserved in terms of social media engagement. I would go as far to suggest that even these more positive campaigns were overshadowed by a negative national theme.

Watching many passionately vocalise their feelings (some inappropriately) towards the campaign on Facebook, I couldn’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if the campaign were a positive one. 

Okay, so the theme was foot health. The underlying message was to look at and take care of your feet. Why not set up a few booths across the city where people could get their feet examined for free? The CBD, universities, shopping centres, etc. Create a cool hashtag, and encourage people to post photos on social media as they’re getting their feet examined. Make an event out of it, and give people something to remember when it’s time for their next foot check.

I thought Diabetes NSW were onto something by staging a Guinness World Record – it’s just a shame that they went with “Standing on One Leg,” which seemingly made a mockery of amputees. 

I personally did not like the theme of this year’s National Diabetes Week. And if the response on social media is anything to go by, Diabetes Australia will need to reconsider their messaging in 2017.

5 thoughts on “Time to Rethink National Diabetes Week?

  1. Clearly diabetes is bigger than amputations. I like to think of my mom when I talk about such things, but mom passed at age 46 and the last week of her life she lost a portion of her hand because of diabetes. Both of her feet should have been removed 10 years earlier but she refused and she kept them to the end of her life. Mom hated the idea of amputation more than she hated death. Mom fought a gallant battle against diabetes but she never had a chance.

    Today we battle on a more even playing field. Complications are not defeated, diabetes is not defeated, but the question in my mind is how do we best get people to listen. This campaign seems aimed at those who deny having diabetes. Is it a needed, or effective? Your guess is as good as mine. Someone will do the market analytics to figure it out and when they do,, we will never know. Except watch it next year, that will prove if the underwriter got their monies worth or not. My guess? It is just more electrons in the air, making little discernible difference to anyone.

    I referred your blog to the TUDiabetes.org blog page for the week of July 11, 2016.

  2. I refuse to engage with Diabetes Australia’s fear mongering tactics and see it as just another example of how they do not listen to the diabetes community and go their own merry way. Considering the high amount of federal funding they get, maybe they are in the health minister’s pocket and as we all know the health minister is about saving money by reducing the “burden”. Diabetes Australia makes a mockery of this champaign and it’s own establishment. Quite frankly i am feeling “embarrassed” to be in any way affiliated with Diabetes Australia, then when you look at who they have endorsed in the past, does this latest tasteless and insensitive champaign surprise you?

    As i have said a senate enquiry into DA is very much called for and needed.

  3. I did see a lot of complaints this year, so I do think we need to find a happy medium. I quite liked the subject but I know I’m an outlier. Amputations is never going to be an easy subject to broach. People blanch at the mention of the subject, so the whole community, DA and patients included, have our work cut out for us on how to approach this without backlash. I know you also recognise that those in the DOC probably have better standards of healthcare than others, so I think there is some responsibility to those of us in the DOC to educate and raise awareness within our own community to extend the reach of healthcare.

    Before the campaign I actually had no idea that 85% of amputations were preventable…I just thought there was nothing I could do to stop it. I actually feel better about my future because of the campaign.

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