During a diabetes themed episode of Sunday Night this week, I noticed several tweets from Diabetes NSW that had been carefully planted into the #SN7 feed on Twitter (the program’s hashtag). Including this one, which sought to tell us that 7,750 people die from diabetes and related complications each year.
It’s not the first time I’ve seen these kind of Tweets from Diabetes NSW as of late. During the diabetes community’s I Wish People Knew That Diabetes day last month, Diabetes NSW once again hijacked the feed to fill us in on some of the scary facts.
On both occasions, the Tweets appeared automated and displayed little understanding around the respective hashtags they were hijacking.
After seeing this tactic employed once again on Sunday evening, I couldn’t help but call them out.
As a member based organisation that supposedly represents and supports people with diabetes, messages like these really do members a disservice. Do messages promoting complications and instilling fear around poorly managed diabetes really motivate individuals to look after their health? I think not. And judging by the reaction I received on Twitter, I am not the only person who feels this way.
While stories like these may be effective on people without diabetes, I feel that they sorely overlook those of us who already live with it. In my opinion, health consequences such as obesity, sugar consumption, physical activity or kidney failure are separate issues that need to be dealt with exclusively from diabetes.
The sad reality is that the wider media eat up the sensationalised stories around the complications and fear surrounding life 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 the case of the aforementioned Tweet, that a person with diabetes could drop dead at any given moment!
Yet the positive stories, the ones around people with diabetes being able to live healthy and full lives are often overlooked, or overshadowed by the sensationalised stories. Diabetes NSW were quick to point me to a page of positive “ambassador” stories on their website, including another “Frank” who I reminded them of. Yet I am reminded of this recent post from Melinda at Twice Diabetes. I can’t help but wonder whether they are ambassadors who are truly engaged with the organisation and the community, or just figureheads that are referenced when necessary.
To be fair, Diabetes NSW is not the first organisation to instill these messages. We had the dreadful 280 a Day campaign for Diabetes Week last year in Australia, and more recently we had the very confusing World Health Day.
Shaping the conversation around diabetes in public begins with the organisations who represent us. I only wish we weren’t so hard done by all the time.