Happy Diabetes Awareness Month! We don’t really celebrate it in Australia, reserving our energies and efforts and enthusiasm for World Diabetes Day. I always thought it was a US thing (where it’s called National Diabetes Awareness month or #NDAM), but it seems that more and more countries around the world are celebrating, and who am I to not jump on a bandwagon? Plus, as I write this, I’m in a café in SoHo New York, so joining the NDAM party makes perfect sense to me!

The concept of awareness raising of health conditions is a really interesting one and has puzzled me a little for some time. Plus, it can be fraught with a lot of potential landmines. When it comes to the huge issue of diabetes, we get into criticisms of awareness initiatives being too niche and ‘exclusive’ (such as this one and this one) or too broad.

In my role at Diabetes Australia, we do awareness raising all the time. Our main efforts are around National Diabetes week, and perhaps the campaign of which I’m most proud is the three-year drive highlighting the importance of diagnosing diabetes early for both T1 and T2 diabetes. I like that our campaigns have calls to action – they’re not airy-fairy ‘tell the world about how hard my life is with diabetes’, but campaigns that have meat on their bones, with a strong ‘why’ behind them.

Why do I think that is important? Because I honestly don’t think that there is appetite from people outside the diabetes world to truly understand the intricacies of day-to-day diabetes. I don’t have a clue what the day of a person living with a chronic condition such as MS or Parkinson’s is like. And I don’t think it is all that necessary for people not living with diabetes to understand what it feels like when my glucose levels are 25mmol/l.

With the month all of a few hours old, social media pages are already awash in blue. The enthusiasm on day one is a powerful force. But I wonder how far outside the diabetes echo chamber that force extends. Are we reaching people who don’t know anything about diabetes? And will it compel them to find out more? Or do they scroll by and not even really clock what they have seen, because perhaps the topic is not really all that relevant?

I am sure that this blog is primarily read by people who are in some way connected to diabetes, and I would expect more skewed towards people affected by type 1 diabetes. I guess that makes sense – when I read diabetes blogs, I want to hear and read about people whose experiences mirror my own.

I would never, ever regard what I am doing as awareness raising. I’m telling my story to people whose awareness of diabetes is already incredibly heightened.

So, it surprises me when events, activities and campaigns generally consumed by people already affected by diabetes are seen as awareness raising. How aware do we need to be? If you’re at an event where the people on stage are all people with diabetes telling their life story, I think you can be pretty sure that most, if not all, of the people in the audience with you either also have diabetes, have a loved one with diabetes or are a healthcare professional working in diabetes.

Diabetes tweetchat contributors are always people affected by diabetes; webinar viewers are too. Sure, participants may learn something new, but has the cause of diabetes been elevated to new people?

I am all for events and activities that celebrate people with diabetes and give us a platform to share our stories. But I think we have to be sensible when we think of what they are actually achieving. I listen to diabetes podcasts and read diabetes blogs. I see all of this as a form of peer support – a way to connect with my tribe. It makes sense to me to use the limited time and mental bandwidth I have to enhance my own diabetes.

I think that awareness raising initiatives – whether it be awareness months or weeks or days, or smaller events – usually serve the community that they are speaking about. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are huge benefits. Learning from others as they offer up wisdom of their tips and tricks for navigating the difficult, mundane or even amusing aspects of diabetes is brilliant. It can be validating (‘Oh, I’m not the only one who does <enter non-compliant behaviour>’) and it can help us remember that we don’t walk this diabetes path alone.

This is how I have come to see these sorts of social-based activities. Awareness raising – to those unaware of diabetes? Maybe not. But I still believe that any opportunity to hear the voice of people living with diabetes is a good one. And any change to connect with our tribe, to feel like something bigger than our own diabetes world, is great.

So, this November, as my socials continued to be flooded in blue, I’ll be thinking of it as diabetes connections month and am looking forward to seeing how my diabetes tribe around the globe is talking about their own diabetes. We’re already diabetes aware enough!

More than happy just raising a cup of coffee!