Strength in num­bers

A new di­a­betes di­ag­no­sis may raise more ques­tions than an­swers, which is why on­line peer sup­port groups can be so in­valu­able

Diabetic Living - - Con­tents -

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.”

REAL-LIFE RE­SULTS

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.”

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