Strength in numbers
A new diabetes diagnosis may raise more questions than answers, which is why online peer support groups can be so invaluable
Find support in your community
As a nation, we’re a big fan of Facebook. Four out of five people living in Australia visit the social media site at least once a month, and it turns out we do more than look at cute cat videos while we’re there. Since Facebook launched its ‘private groups’ feature,
400 million people worldwide have joined the tens of millions of active groups the network hosts – groups such as Diabetes Support Australia and New Zealand.
A support group for people living with diabetes and their family members, it’s run by Jenn Evans. Since taking the helm of the eight-year-old group in 2018, Jenn has seen its membership swell to more than 8000 people.
“When you have diabetes, being able to tap into the knowledge and lived experience of others is invaluable,” says Jenn, who has been living with diabetes since her teens and dedicates hours each day to her role as one of the group’s administrators. “Our members often comment that they’re incredibly grateful to have found the group because it’s helped them learn and understand so much more about diabetes than they knew before joining.”
One of those members is Mel Davis. “Since joining this group, I’ve gained more knowledge than from any specialist I’ve been to,” says Mel. “That’s helped me immensely in managing my diabetes far better than I would have been able to on my own. And, being part of the group, I never feel alone.
The moral support has gotten me through so many times of feeling scared and beaten.”
Jenn says community spirit is key. “Diabetes isn’t just one disease, and being able to ask questions in the group and receive answers and support helps people realise that no
matter what they’re going through, or what type of diabetes they’re living with, there’s someone out there who’s in the same situation – or has been at some stage – as they are.”
Research proves peer support is a powerful force. While a 2017 study found people living with diabetes who drew on the advice, information and support shared in an online group felt empowered and more engaged in their health care, according to another study, many peer support group participants also enjoy improvements in blood glucose levels, weight and diabetes symptom management.
Diabetes Support Australia and New Zealand member Mel Schokker can relate. “I’ve been part of the group for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until last July that I realised I needed to take my diabetes more seriously,” she says. “Since engaging more with the group, I’ve lost 13kg and my BGLs have halved in that time.”
Jenn says stories such as that aren’t uncommon. “And it’s something I think all of us – the admins, the moderators and all of our members – can be really proud of. We’re genuinely making a difference to people’s lives.”
A LITTLE LIGHT RELIEF
Online diabetes support groups such as Jenn’s might be devoted to sharing crucial information and knowledge, but there’s a lot of room for a laugh, too. “There’s always someone who can help with a question or a recipe – or even a joke if you’re just feeling overwhelmed,” says member Raelene Goldsworthy.
And it’s not just having a laugh that’s encouraged; venting is also acceptable. Another member, Wendy Schultz, says the importance of being able to do that in a ‘safe space’ can’t be underestimated. “Sometimes venting the frustrations of living with diabetes, particularly when things aren’t going to plan, is exactly what you need, and is what has helped me on a number of occasions,” she says.
Still not sure if joining an online diabetes support group is right for you? Jenn’s advice is simply to try it and see.
“You’ll be so welcome,” she says. “Regardless of your age, what type of diabetes you have, or even if you’re a friend or family member of someone with diabetes, you’ll discover that members of our group are more than willing to help and support you on your journey.”