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C/W This post contains content about diabetes and suicide and intended self-injury. 

If you need help, this Wikipedia page has a list of mental health crisis lines around the world.  And for a list of contacts actively updated and maintained by the Wikimedia Foundation, go here. 

We talk a lot about taboo topics in diabetes.  For years, there have been concerted efforts to shine a light on many of the issues and topics that have not received enough attention but are very important to people with diabetes. Often it is people in the diabetes community who find ways to delicately begin conversations, and that is then followed by an interest from researchers and clinicians.

But there are still some topics that are often seen as just too difficult, just too fraught, just too scary. 

Suicide and intended self-injury (ISI) fall into that group. 

At EASD this year, I was invited to join a meeting for the RESCUE Collaborative Community, a project that is lifting the veil on one of the most difficult issues in diabetes mental health. The name of this project is a clue to what it is trying to achieve: RESCUE (REducing SuiCide rates amongst individUals with diabetes).

The mission of this project is:

To reduce rates of intended self-injury (ISI) and suicidal acts by people with diabetes through improved understanding of the risk factors and implementing strategies to address them.  In support of this mission, RESCUE works with stakeholders across the health spectrum including patients and care partners, academia, healthcare professionals, advocacy groups, industry, payers, federal and state agencies and regulatory bodies.

This is a big issue and a difficult one. There is a lot to think about, a lot of unknowns and a lot of questions to be asked. To work out how to help people with diabetes who are at risk, there needs to be a better informed workforce, with evidence to develop strategies that are going to help. And we also need to know how to approach the very basics when talking about suicide and ISI in relation to diabetes. 

When it comes to diabetes and mental health something comes up frequently: there is limited dialogue and understanding between diabetes HCPs and mental health HCPs. I remember hearing Georgie Peters speak at the IDF World Diabetes Congress in 2017 about living with diabulimia. She said that she would be told to ‘go home and take your insulin’ – a completely inadequate approach. In her talk, Georgie said that is the same as telling someone with anorexia to ‘go home and eat’. But when trying to navigate care from two highly specialised health areas, that sort of response is rife. 

And so, how to we make sure that when looking at diabetes and suicide and ISI, we are mindful of the specific diabetes issues that need to be considered? 

At the meeting last week, we spoke about trying to identify people with diabetes who may need attention. Contemplating how insulin may be used as a way to self-harm is one consideration, so people being admitted to hospital with frequent DKA, and people admitted for a serious hypo could be a starting point to investigate. Of course, not everyone who has DKA or a serious hypo is self-harming. Diabetes gonna diabetes and sometimes, things just happen. But it certainly does seem a good place to begin, with targeted approaches to ask questions in an appropriate way that might help identify people who need mental health support, in particular about ISI and suicide, with an aim of reducing risks. 

One of the other discussion points was asking about the role of peer support and the community when talking about suicide and diabetes? Is peer mentorship an idea? How can peers support each other? In the way that #TalkAboutComplications kickstarted meaningful community discussions about the taboo topic of diabetes-related complications and helped people with diabetes feel safe to first open up and speak about their own experiences of living with diabetes-related complications, could there be a way to signpost discussions about serious mental health conditions. And would this break down stigmas, help people realise they are not alone, and seek help, or at least ask where to seek help? Or, is this a burden too big for peer support?

There’s a lot to unpack here, and there really are no simple answers. But this work spearheaded by Professor Kath Barnard-Kelly with a team of dynamic health professionals, with input from diabetes advocates is lifting a veil to start to look for those answers. 

For more information about the RESCUE Collaborative Community, click on the image above.

MORE

#dedoc° voice, the brilliant Niki (@WhatNikiDidNext) live tweeted a symposium on suicide and ISI at EASD, and you can see her tweets here. Presenters at this session were Kath Barnard-Kelly, Marissa Town, Tadej Battelino and Simon O’Neil.

Disclosure

My travel and accommodation were covered by #dedoc°, where I am employed as Head of Advocacy. Thanks to EASD for the press pass.

I was invited to attend the RESCUE Collaborative Community meeting. I was not paid for my time to attend.

Promotional poster for The Human Trial. The films name is written in large letters with the words 'Would you go first?' above. There is the silhouette of a person standing at the top of the poster.

Have you see The Human trial, the documentary film about searching for a cure for type 1 diabetes? I saw it a while ago, and then again last week. It’s remarkable viewing.

I’m delighted to publish this guest post from Elizabeth Snouffer, freelance writer, diabetes advocate and a remarkable woman I’m fortunate to call a friend. Elizabeth wrote this review of The Human Trail just after it was released to US audiences, but I wanted to wait to share it until it could be viewed by people from around the world. Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your thoughts.

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The Human Trial documentary film is an intimate look at the overwhelming, messy, and unpredictable nature of living with type 1 diabetes alongside a similarly defined clinical trial seeking to fund and find a cure for the disease. Directors, Lisa Hepner and Guy Mossman, have painstakingly worked on their documentary film for more than a decade as Producer and Writer, and Director of Photography respectively. Abramorama released the film in theaters on June 24, 2022.  

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 21, Hepner, who narrates the film, represents millions of people in the diabetes community – including families, physicians, advocates and more – who would do anything to put an end to the auto-immune condition that leads to terrible complications and early mortality.

Mossman calls his documentary an observational film and it is hard to disagree.  The cinéma vérité approach allows the audience to experience the relentless burden diabetes exacts on the people it touches.  In the first scene, we watch Hepner prick her finger for blood while her 3-year-old son Jack looks after the test strip in the glucose meter. He is excited but turns quiet while we observe the countdown and Jack tells his mom the result—2-9-4.  Hepner brushes off her disappointment and Jack quickly moves on asking Dad to test his glucose.  Mossman complies with the child’s request, but the result, 96 mg/dL is startling. The health gap between Jack’s parents is a poignant reminder of the difficult impact disease has on a family. “I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to outrun diabetes, but it’s not working,” says Hepner as she prepares for an appointment with her nurse practitioner, expressing hope to stave off retinopathy and blindness.  Without adequate care for blood glucose stability, what will tomorrow bring for this young family?  When the well-meaning public questions prioritizing a diabetes cure because insulin is often misrepresented as the answer, The Human Trial offers a strong rationale for funding diabetes cure research.

The film is always on the move, symbolic of the stamina it takes to both manage a chronic illness and fight for cures.  From her car, Hepner asks “Why is the cure for diabetes taking so long?”  and we wonder, too. Viacyte, a California Bio-tech company, gives Hepner and Mossman real-time access to film various aspects of their first clinical trial – only the sixth-ever embryonic stem cell trial in the world.  It’s clear the film has moved away from the personal sphere into medical science and in a sense, the business of diabetes.  We become onlookers to an employee filled conference room celebration and listen to former Viacyte CEO, Paul Laikind, announce FDA approval for the biotech’s first human clinical trial with a bio-artificial pancreas. We feel the impact of their excitement and anxiety.  Will our methods work?  Will we run out of money?  

Trials take place across the world but Hepner and Mossman’s camera lands at the University of Minnesota where the first participants, who are high risk for acute life-threatening complications, are implanted with multiple small-format cell-filled devices called sentinels to evaluate safety and viability.  Maren, aka Patient 1, suffers from hypoglycemic unawareness and seizures, and Gregory, Patient 2, is concerned about vision loss.  Their ability to deal with adversity is uncanny, and their fortitude as pioneers on a surgical journey to the unknown is inspiring to watch. We observe the operating room from above as Maren and Gregory are implanted and witness the risks associated with the new therapeutic approach.  They have similar questions to the Viacyte team, but the stakes are higher.  

Could I be cured?  

Participants in clinical trials aren’t usually given any indication of outcomes before trial completion which is understandably excruciating for Maren and Gregory during the trial.  The countless surgeries and tests are grueling, and we are gripped by their resilience on the screen and our mutual desire for a positive outcome. 

The Human Trial gives visibility to the invisible—the often-hidden and challenged lives of people with type 1 diabetes and the thousands of scientists and researchers working arduously to fund and discover cures. The film’s subjects are not just fighters; they have accepted how obstacles, even failures, are a part of the journey to success.  I call that courage.  

Please click here to see where you can watch.

Elizabeth Snouffer is a freelance writer living in New York City. 

Psst…forgotten something?

If you’re in the northern hemisphere right now, you’re possibly all caught up in the sunshine, splashing around at the beach or spending time off work just taking time out. If you’re from the southern hemisphere, you’re either smart and have taken a holiday to Europe because EVERYONE.IS.IN.EUROPE.RIGHT.NOW, or under fifteen quilts in front of a roaring fire, counting down the days until it gets warmer. Sadly, I’m in the latter group.

I get it. Things slip by either way. 

But! You only have a few days left to make sure you don’t miss out on applying for a #dedoc° voices scholarship. Wherever you are, a scholarship means you have something to look forward to in a couple of months’ time and the absolute thrill of either virtually or in-person attending a global diabetes conference or two. That’s right – TWO! EASD (European diabetes conference) and ISPAD (paediatric diabetes conference) are the next international conferences on the diabetes conference calendar. Both will be hybrid, with the in-person locations being Stockholm and Abu Dhabi respectively. 

We’re well over two years into the #dedoc° voices program now, and the awesome thing about it is that it’s not just about the few days of the conference where you get to learn from incredible researchers and clinicians, while waving the lived experience flag and being surrounded by others with diabetes. I mean, that is all pretty great. But being a #dedoc° voice goes way beyond that!  Once you receive a scholarship you are part of a network of remarkable diabetes advocates from across the world, and this network is the most supportive, encouraging, brilliant group of people, always ready to help. Every single week, I see people reaching out for support and advice and the responses are swift and many. I’ve not seen a single example of anything other than support, and have watched advocates truly flourish as they have worked with others, developed mentoring relationships and been supported to do brilliant things. 

Unless you’re part of the program, you wouldn’t know this. And here’s the deal: anyone can become part of it. The #dedoc° voices program is open to people from across the world and everyone is in with an equal chance. You just need to spend some time completing an application. It is a competitive process, and places are limited. The people who get accepted are the ones who have taken some time with their application and really been able to demonstrate just how they are going to #PayItForward to their diabetes community if successful. No one is a shoe in; having a high follower count on socials means nothing if your application is sub-par. We take people who are new to the diabetes advocacy space, and are looking for a hand carving out their space, as well as seasoned advocates who are keen to work with others and become part of a global network, outside their own country.

So, get on it! Click on the image below, fill in the form and join us! You get to work on your advocacy while giving back to the community, all while wearing the #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs badge. How amazing is that?!

More on #diabetogenic about the #dedoc° voices program:

#dedoc° voices helping people with diabetes get into professional conferences

How #dedoc° voices supported people with diabetes in Ukraine

More on why to apply to join the #dedoc voices program

Disclosure

I have been an advisor for a number of years, and am now working with them as Head of Advocacy. 

Gosh, it’s been a hot minute since I last did one of these. The whole point of Interweb Jumble posts on Diabetogenic is to highlight anything that has caught my interest in the online diabetes world, write about initiatives I’ve been involved in, and, most importantly, to elevate the great work being done by others living with diabetes. Building folks up and promoting their amazing efforts has been at the heart of what I do, so I’m always happy to share what others are doing.

Grab a coffee, tea or shandy, (Don’t. Don’t grab a shandy), and read on.

Diabetes Chat

YES!! There is a new place to congregate online, in a different format, and with this one, you get to hear people’s voices. (Sorry to everyone who had to endure my 7am Aussie accent last Tuesday!). This is a new initiative that’s been set up by three DOC folks – Tom from the UK, and Chris and Sarah from the US, utilising a new feature on Twitter called Spaces. It’s a terrific way to host an online peer meeting, creating yet another time and place that is BY people with diabetes, FOR people with diabetes. There is a weekly guest who gets put through their paces with terrific questions from the hosts and those listening in, and an open mic chat time as well. 

It’s super impressive to see people from all over the globe participating. It reminds me a little of the DSMA tweetchats which are very welcoming and open to all, regardless of where you live around the world. 

Search #DiabetesChat on Twitter for more.

dStigmatize

The team at diaTribe has once again tapped into one of the important issues, and much spoken about topics in the diabetes community and developed a terrific new website addressing diabetes stigma. It’s called dStigmatize and you can find it here

I’m delighted to see Diabetes Australia’s work on stigma and language highlighted so prominently on the site (disclosure: I work at Diabetes Australia and have been involved in this work), including the videos from last year’s Australian National Diabetes Week campaign, which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. 

Seasons of…diagnosis

New research out of Finland asked if more people were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during colder months. You can read the paper here.

And a discussion on Twitter about it here.  

HypoRESOLVE podcast

The HypoRESOLVE comms team created a new podcast to showcase the incredible work of this researchers involved in the project, with a strong emphasis on how people with diabetes are involved in the project. I was delighted to host this podcast and speak with some truly remarkable clinicians and researchers as well as other people with diabetes who are on the projects Patient Advisory Committee. (Disclosure – I am on the HypoRESOLVE PAC. PAC members are now paid an honorarium for our time working on this project, however we were not at the time of recording or working on this podcast.)

Here is the most recent episode (on Spotify). 

Better engagement with PWD = better services

Great paper from a team out of the UK looking at how connecting with the lived experience expertise of people with diabetes, health professionals and diabetes health services can improve service delivery. 

One of the co-authors is one of the GBdoc OG, Laura (@Ninjabetic1 on Twitter), and it’s great to see her name back in the diabetes world, contributing to this important discussion. 

And the DDA podcast…

The Danish Diabetes Academy developed a podcast out of their Winter School that featured Postdocs who had participated in the academy speaking with others in the diabetes world to discuss who academic researchers work to ensure their research reaches and benefits those they are researching. I was so honoured to be invited to be interviewed for their first episode and answered questions about how communication is important when engaging people with diabetes to be part of the research process. You can listen here.  

Language Matters for Portuguese speaking friends with diabetes!

The latest in the Diabetes #LanguageMatters stable is this document out of Brazil. Always terrific to see more and more statements coming out, highlighting the importance of language and communication in diabetes. 

Thinking of starting on an insulin pump?

If so, the awesome Grainne at Blood Sugar Trampoline has you covered with this post. It is truly one of the most measured pieces I’ve read about things to consider if you are on the path to starting an insulin pump. The gushiness and superlatives that many of us resort to when banging on about how much we love our pumps are replaced with sensible, and practical advice and suggestions. If this is where you’re thinking of taking your diabetes management, Grainne’s piece is a must read.

Who doesn’t want to come to ATTD!? 

#dedoc° voices is back and heading to ATTD in April this year, and applications are still open if you would like to be considered as part of the program. Successful applicants will be granted access to the entire ATTD program, giving them an opportunity to share what they see and learn with their networks. Make your submission count – this is a competitive process and success is more likely for those who take the time to provide details of how they will be involved in the program. Details here

(Disclosure: I am an advisor to the #dedoc° voices program. I do not receive any payment for this role.) 

World Health Organisation

In March, the World Health Organisation, through the Global Diabetes Compact, is hosting a two-day focus group for people with lived experience of diabetes. If you’re interested in getting involved, there is an expression of interest process you can complete here

Also from WHO is this survey which is asking people with diabetes how to improve messaging and communication. You only have until 28 Feb, so get onto it now! (Disclosure: I was a volunteer consultant in the development of this survey) 

Massive kudos to the Global Diabetes Compact team who are doing an absolutely stellar job engaging with the community. Always so terrific to see!

A diabetes sea shanty…

You’re welcome.

(Follow @TypeWonDiabetes on Instagram here.) 

People with diabetes and their involvement in research

An end of year delight was this article that I co-authored making it to publication. The article is about how to better involve people with health conditions in research (which really seems to be something I’ve been very focussed on recently!). 

Spare a Rose – last push

February still has a last few days which means that Spare a Rose isn’t over yet. You can still donate and contribute to this year’s total and support people with diabetes in under-resourced countries through the Insulin for Life program. 

Seventeen years ago, I had a decision to make. Would I enrol our soon-to-be-born baby in research that would tell us if she had any of the antibodies for type 1 diabetes?  

I thought about it long and hard. Aaron and I spoke about it a lot. He wanted to support me with whatever I thought would be best. In the end, we decided not to do it. Even before our daughter was born there was a dread that I could barely give word to – I was terrified that I would be responsible for passing on my diabetes to my baby. That feeling hasn’t gone, by the way. I have spent a lot of hours working through it with a psychologist to try to understand the source of the anxiety and learn to manage the fear in a way that doesn’t become all encompassing. Because there were times that I felt paralysed with that fear. I knew I needed to get through that. 

I felt horribly guilty about not signing her up straight away and registering her in research. When I returned to work after maternity leave, there was a trial that was in full recruitment mode, and I once again faced the decision. I was actively promoting this study through my work, and speaking to the researchers a lot. A couple of times, I asked if I could speak with them in a personal rather than professional capacity and explain my reticence to enrol my daughter, even though I could understand why the work was so important. I asked for their advice and guidance, and they were always so wonderfully kind and understanding when I said that I simply didn’t feel that I could proceed. I think that part of the reason was that there wasn’t really all that much that could be done if it was identified that she did indeed have one or more of the islet autoantibodies. 

Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of interest and excitement in research into prevention and delay of type 1 diabetes. That ‘p’ word that has only ever been attached to type 2 diabetes now very firmly has a place when it comes to type 1 diabetes. At the ADC earlier this month, I listened to a couple of hours of talks from researchers who were talking all about screening for type 1 diabetes, and interventions that are taking place around the world with remarkable results. 

The Type 1 Screen program has been running in Australia since 2018. It is open to relatives of someone with type 1 diabetes, aged 2 – 30 years. After initial screening, people without antibodies are screened every five years; people with antibodies are screened annually. Up until now, screening has been by doing a pathology blood test. However, home collection is being developed and, at the time of the presentation, was about to be launched. Home collection will be done by using blood from a finger prick.

So, what are the benefits of screening for type 1 diabetes? Well, there are many!

Early diagnosis (of anything) is a good thing! In a perfect world, early diagnosis means early treatment which means better outcomes. It also helps people and families prepare for progression to diabetes. 

Screening reduces the risk of DKA at diagnosis. While that may make for a less traumatic diagnosis experience, there are also linger term benefits for this. DKA at diagnosis increases the risk of recurrent DKA, a higher A1c and increases the risk of diabetes-related complications. 

Prevention is on the horizon! Knowing people who are at risk of type 1 diabetes means employing interventions that have the potential to delay, and may one day prevent, type 1 diabetes. Research using the drug Teplizumab delayed the onset of type 1 diabetes by two years. 

Researchers and clinicians are talking about stages of type 1 diabetes and this is where it gets super interesting. Stage three type 1 diabetes I diagnosis and, typically, that’s where treatment starts. But in the future, it’s possible that treatment, including glucose monitoring, could be routine for stages one and two. 

I listened to all this carefully and one thing that was clear to me: even seventeen years later, the emotional impact of this is significant. Thankfully, Dr Christel Hendrieckxs from the ACBRD is part of the project team for this work here in Australia. It goes without saying that this is about a lot more than just early diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. There is also the impact on the family, especially if someone in that family already has type 1 diabetes. The mother guilt I have at the thought of passing on diabetes to my daughter is by no means a small thing. I know a number of other parents with diabetes who have similar thoughts. 

After that session, I asked my sixteen, almost seventeen, year old how she would feel about enrolling in Type 1 Screen. It’s completely up to her now – I am happy to chat about it, and tell her all about the program, but ultimately, it’s her decision. She understands why I was reluctant to enrol her when she was tiny, but now, I am giving her the option to get involved, and she needs to make her own decision which we’ll fully support. I don’t know what she will decide, but the seed has been planted, and I am here to chat with her about it, and organise times to meet with the researchers too if she’d like.

Watch my Q&A with A/Professor John Wentworth from Type 1 Screen about getting involved in this research.

More information about Type 1 Screen can be found here

Yesterday, the Australian vaccine rollout was expanded to include children. This follows the TGA approving the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children in the 12 – 15 year age group. ATAGI responded by including children with diabetes in that age group into Phase 1B, meaning they are eligible right now for a jab (provided, of course, they can find one…!).

Already I’m seeing in diabetes online discussions some parents of kids with type 1 diabetes saying their child will not be getting the vaccine, stating that the reason for that decision is because their type 1 diagnosis came shortly after one of their childhood vaccines.

And so it seems a good time to revisit this post that I wrote back in 2017. It has a very long title that could have been much more simply: correlation ≠ causation.

It is understandable to want to find a reason for a health issue. Being able to blame something means that we can, perhaps, stop blaming ourselves. I imagine that for parents kids with diabetes that desire to find something – anything – to point to would come as somewhat of a relief. But there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that vaccines are that reason.

Unfortunately, the idea that vaccines are the root of all evil and cause everything under the sun is a myth that is perpetuated over and over in antivax groups; groups where science, evidence and logic goes to die. Vaccines save lives and they are safe. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

My sixteen year old is not in a priority group and cannot be vaccinated just yet, but she is ready to go as soon as her phase has the green light. All the adults nearest and dearest to her – her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncle, friends’ parents – are fully vaccinated now, and she knows what a privilege it is to be in that situation. She understands that with that privilege comes responsibility to do what you can to protect vulnerable cohorts in the community. And she also understands that vaccines are safe and they save lives.

If you are feeling unsure about getting a COVID vaccine – for you or your child – please speak with your GP. Don’t listen to someone in a Facebook group. And that may come as a surprise to anyone who knows how important I consider peer support and learning from others in our community, but to them I say this: I listen to and learn from people in the diabetes community because they don’t suggest anti-science approaches. They talk about support, and provide tips and tricks for living with diabetes. If anyone tells me to ignore doctors (because all they care about is getting rich), or to stop taking my insulin (because there is a natural supplement that will do the trick), I would block them as quickly as I could. Science works. Science is why people with diabetes are alive today. Science is why we have vaccines. Trust science. THAT’S what makes sense.

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In the next couple of weeks, our kid gets to line up for her next round of immunisations. At twelve years of age, that means that she can look forward to chickenpox and Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis boosters, and a three-dose course of the HPV vaccine.

When the consent form was sent home, she begrudgingly pulled it out of her school bag and handed it to me. ‘I have to be immunised,’ she said employing the same facial expressions reserved for Brussels sprouts.

She took one look at me and then, slightly sheepishly, said, ‘I don’t get to complain about it, do I?’

Nope,’ I said to her. ‘You don’t get to complain about needles because…well because…suck it up princess. No sympathy about needles from your mean mamma! And you have to be vaccinated because that’s what we do. Immunisation is safe and is a really good way to stop the spread of infectious diseases that not too long ago people died from. And herd immunity only works if…

‘….if most people are immunised so diseases are not spread,’ she cut me off, finishing my sentence. I nodded at her proudly, signed the form and handed it back to her. ‘In your bag. Be grateful that you are being vaccinated. It’s a gift.’ (She mumbled something about it being a crappy gift, and that it would be better if she got a Readings gift voucher instead, but I ignored that.)

Over the weekend, the vaccination debate was fired up again with One Nationidiot leader, Pauline Hanson, sharing her half-brained thoughts on the issue.

I hate that I am even writing about Pauling Hanson. I despise what she stands for. Her unenlightened, racist, xenophobic, mean, ill-informed rhetoric, which is somehow interpreted as ‘she just says what many of us are thinking’, is disgusting. But her latest remarks go to show, once again, what an ignorant and dangerous fool she is.

Her comments coincided with a discussion on a type 1 diabetes Facebook page about vaccinations preceding T1D. Thankfully, smart people reminded anyone suggesting that their diabetes was a direct result of a recent vaccination that correlation does not equal causation.

I get really anxious when there is discussion about vaccinations, because the idea that this is something that can and should be debated is dangerous. There is no evidence to suggest that vaccines cause diabetes (or autism or anything else). There is, however, a lot of evidence to show that they do a shed-load of good. And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself how many cases of polio you’ve seen lately. People of my parents’ generation seemed to all know kids and adults with polio and talk about just how debilitating a condition it was. And they know first-hand of children who died of diseases such as measles or whooping cough.

This is not an ‘I have my opinion, you have yours. Let’s agree to disagree’ issue. It is, in fact, very black and white.

A number of people in the Facebook conversation commented that their (or their child’s) diagnosis coincided with a recent vaccination. But here’s the thing: type 1 diabetes doesn’t just happen. We know that it is a long and slow process.

Click for reference

What this shows is that even if onset of diabetes occurs at (correlates with) the time of a vaccination, it cannot possibly be the cause.

When we have people in the public sphere coming out and saying irresponsible things about vaccinations, it is damaging. People will listen to Pauline Hanson rather than listen to a doctor or a researcher with decades of experience, mountains of evidence and bucket-loads (technical term) of science to support their position.

The idea that ‘everyone should do their own research’ is flawed because there is far too much pseudo-science rubbish out there and sometimes it’s hard to work out what is a relevant and respectable source and what is gobbledygook (highly technical term).

Plus, those trying to refute the benefit of vaccinations employ the age-old tactic of conspiracy theories to have people who are not particularly well informed to start to question real experts. If you have ever heard anyone suggesting: government is in the pockets of Big Pharma / the aliens are controlling us / if we just ate well and danced in the sunshine / any other hare-brained suggestion, run – don’t walk – away from them. And don’t look back.

I have been thinking about this a lot in the last couple of days. I have what I describe as an irrational fear that my kid is going to develop diabetes. It keeps me awake at night, makes me burst into tears at time and scares me like nothing else. If I, for a second, thought for just a tiny second that vaccinating my daughter increased her chances of developing diabetes, she would be unvaccinated. If I thought there was any truth at all in the rubbish that vaccines cause diabetes, I wouldn’t have let her anywhere near a vaccination needle.

But there is no evidence to support that. None at all.

Today, there was an article in online publication, The Limbic, which reported on a recent study conducted out of Westmead Hospital Young Adult Diabetes Clinic

The top line news from this research was that there is a high discontinuation rate of CGM in young people (aged 15 to 21 years). 

Let me start by saying I know that CGM is not for everyone. I don’t believe everyone should use it, have to use or even necessarily be encouraged to use it. As with everything, your diabetes technology wishes and dreams may vary (#YDTWADMV really isn’t a catchy hashtag, is it?), and there is a lot to consider, including accessibility and affordability. In Australia, affordability is not such an issue for the age group that was studied in this research. Our NDSS CGM initiative means that access to CGM and Flash is fully taxpayer funded (with no out-of-pocket expenses) for pretty much all kids, adolescents and young people up to the age of 21, provided a healthcare professional fills in the relevant form. 

The top-level findings from this research are that within the first week of starting to use CGM, almost 60% of study participants stopped. The decision to start CGM was made after a one-hour education program that was offered to 151 young people with diabetes, and 44 of them decided to start CGM. Of those 44, 18 young people continued using it. They happened to be the 18 young people who were more connected with their HCP team (i.e., had more frequent clinic appointments) and had a lower A1c, which the researchers suggested meant that they were struggling less with their diabetes management. The 26 young people who chose not to continue cited reasons for stopping such as discomfort, and inconvenience.

I had a lot of questions after I read about this research. (These questions arose after reading the Limbic’s short article and the research abstract. I will follow up and read the whole article when I can get access.)

If the young people who chose to not continue were already struggling with their diabetes management, is adding a noisy, somewhat obvious (as in – it’s stuck to the body 24/7), data-heavy device necessarily a good idea? Was this discussed with them?

Was any psychological support offered to those young people having a tough time with their diabetes? 

Was it explained to the young people how to customise alarms to work for them? If diabetes management was already struggling and resulting in out-of-range numbers, high glucose alarms could have been turned off to begin with. Was this explained?

What education and support had been offered in the immediate period after they commenced CGM therapy? Was there follow up? Was there assistance with doing their first sensor change (which can be daunting for some)? 

In that one-hour education they were offered before deciding to start on a CGM, did they hear from others with diabetes – others their own age (i.e., their peers) – to have conversations about the pros and cons of this therapy, and learn tips and tricks for overcoming some typical concerns and frustrations?

What was in that one-hour education program? Apparently, 151 young people did the program. And only 44 people chose to start CGM. Now, as I’ve already said, I don’t think CGM is for everyone, but 29% seems like a pretty low uptake to me, especially considering there is no cost to use CGM. Did anyone ask if the education program was fit for purpose, or addressed all the issues that this cohort may have? Why did so few young people want to start CGM after doing the program?

Were they using the share function? Did they have the opportunity to turn that off if they felt insecure about others being able to see their glucose data every minute of every day?

What frustrates me so much about this sort of research and the way it is reported is that there is a narrative that the devices are problematic, and that the people who have stopped using them have somehow failed. 

CGM may not be for everyone, but it’s not problematic or terrible technology. I remember how long it took me to learn how to live with CGM and understand the value of it. It took me time and a lot of trial and error. I didn’t want to wear CGM, not because it was lousy tech, or because I was ‘failing’, but because I hadn’t been shown how to get it to work with and for me. I had to work that out myself – with the guidance of others with diabetes who explained that I could change the parameters for the alarms, or turn them off completely.

And these young people are YOUNG PEOPLE – with so much more going on, already struggling with their diabetes management, and not connected with their diabetes healthcare team as much as the young people who continued using CGM. Do we have any information about why they don’t want to connect with healthcare professionals? Could that be part of the reason that they didn’t want to continue using CGM?

I don’t think we should attribute blame in diabetes, but it happens all the time. And when it does, blame is usually targeted at the person with diabetes, but rarely the healthcare professional working in diabetes. If a person with diabetes is not provided adequate, relevant education and support for using a new piece of tech, there should not be any surprise if they make the decision to not keep going with it. 

The positives here is that there is data to show that young people who are already struggling with their diabetes management may need other things before slapping a CGM on them. Cool tech can only do so much; it’s the warm hands of understanding HCPs that might be needed first here. Someone to sit with them and understand what those struggles and challenges are, and find a way to work through them. And if CGM is decided as a way forward, work out a gently, gently approach rather than going from zero to every single bell and whistle switched on. 

I am a huge supporter and believer in research and I am involved in a number of research projects as an associate investigator or advisor. I’m an even bigger supporter in involving people with diabetes as part of research teams to remind other researchers of the real-life implications that could be considered as part of the study, offering a far richer research results. Growing an evidence base about diabetes technologies is how we get to put forward a strong case for funding and reimbursement, increased education programs and more research. But sometimes there seems to be a lot of gaps that need filling before we get a decent idea of what is going on because the findings only tell one very small chapter in the diabetes story.

An old Roz Chast cartoon from the New Yorker 1986. (Click for details)

Two years ago today, I was at Melbourne airport, getting ready to board a plane to get to Nijmegen, via Amsterdam, for the second AGM for the HypoRESOLVE project. I have been part of the Patient Advisory Committee (PAC) since the project’s start, and am honoured to be included amongst such a terrific and passionate group of people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes to lend the lived experience perspective to the work. (Disclosure statement at the end of today’s post.)

A project this big has a lot of moving parts and there is a constant stream of work being done. Right now, one of the most exciting things that we are seeing is a survey for people with diabetes to share their experiences of how hypos impact the quality of life of people with diabetes and our loved ones.

I love that this project is looking at more than simply the clinical side of hypoglycaemia. I’d like to think that the PAC has been influential in this, however one of the things that made me so keen to get involved in the project was that, from its inception, the psychological burden was an integral part of the research. Work package 6, led by Jane Speight and Frans Pouwer, aims to provide just what the impact of hypos are on the quality of life of PWD and our families. I know that in the presentations I’ve given for this project (including at the launch meeting in May 2018), my focus has certainly been on how hypos make me feel emotionally, rather than physically. (I’ll link to pieces I wrote about these presentations at the end of the post today.) 

Right now, it’s time for more than just the PWD on the PAC to have a say – to have Your SAY – by taking part in this new survey. It takes about 30 mins, although I’m seeing heaps of people saying they’re whizzing through it much quicker than that. To complete the survey, you need to:

  • be 16 years of over
  • be able to complete the survey in English
  • have type 1 diabetes, diagnosed over six months ago
  • have type 2 diabetes, and use insulin
  • live with and be in a relationship with someone with diabetes.

Click below to go to the survey, and to find out more information.

The more people who provide their experiences, the more rounded and richer the research will be. Throughout the project, the PAC has repeatedly advocated for the voices of as many PWD as possible to be included (this certainly isn’t the first time a group extending beyond PAC members has been consulted), so please, if you can, take the time to do the survey.

Hypos are a tricky beast; trying to get a really good picture about how they affect our quality of life is essential in developing treatments to make them more manageable. 

More about HypoRESOLVE?

Here’s the projects website.

This post, explaining all about the project’s launch meeting. 

This post about a talk I gave at a satellite meeting at EASD which addressed the differences between how PWD define hypos and the official categories. 

This post, about the difficulties of defining hypoglycaemia in ways that are meaningful for everyone.

Here’s a little video that we recorded at the kick-off meeting. 

And stay tuned for the podcast!

DISCLOSURE

I have been a member of the HypoRESOLVE PAC since the project started. Until the beginning of this year, PAC members were volunteers on the project, with all flights, accommodation, meals and expenses covered from the project budget. Since the beginning of 2021, PAC members have been paid an honorarium for time worked on the project. I have not been paid to write this post, and my words here have not been approved (or read) by anyone on the project before publication. 

The OPEN Diabetes Project is currently running a survey to look at the impact of do-it-yourself artificial pancreas systems (DIYAPS) on the health and wellbeing of users. There are stories all over the DOC about how people with diabetes (and parents of kids with diabetes) have taken the leap to Loop. These stories provide wonderful anecdotal tales of just why and how this tech has helped people.

The idea behind this new survey from the OPEN Diabetes team is to continue to build evidence about the effectiveness of this technology as well as take a look into the future to see just what this tech could have in store.

And important part of this new study is that it is not only OPEN (see what I did there?) to people who are using DIYAPS. That means anyone with diabetes can participate.

This project is important on a number of levels. It was conceived by people with diabetes and a significant number of the people involved in the project team (and I am one of them) are living with diabetes. We very much live the day-to-day life of diabetes and that certainly does make a difference when thinking about research. Also critically important is the fact that the ACBRD has recently joined the OPEN Project consortium. Having a team of researchers exclusively looking at the behavioural impact of diabetes technology will offer insights that have not necessarily been previously considered in such a robust way.

All the information you need can be found by clicking on the image below – including who to speak with if you are looking for more information. Please share the link to the survey with any of your diabetes networks, healthcare professionals who can help pass on details and anyone else who may be able to help spread the word.

A reminder – this is open to everyone with diabetes – not just people using DIYAPS. (I’m stating that again because it may not be all that clear as you are reading through the material once you click through to the survey.) You do not need to be Looping or ever tried the technology. Anyone with any type of diabetes, or parents/carers of kids with diabetes can be involved.

Click on link to take survey

DISCLSOURE

I am part of the Open Diabetes Project Team.

Over the weekend, an embargoed press release arrived in my inbox with a few different pieces of research that would be presented in coming days at EASD.

Being registered as press for diabetes conferences means getting an advance peek into some of the big stories that are likely to generate a lot of interest and discussion. This email offered three or four pieces of research, but it was the first one listed in the subject heading that made me catch my breath and hesitate on the button to read the email beyond the header,

Shorter. Life. Expectancy.

The three words ran through my mind over and over before I steeled myself enough to open the email and read the release, then the abstract and finally the full article. As confronting as the email header was, there was nothing in there that I didn’t expect, and nothing really that surprised me. It’s not new news. I remember being told early into my diagnosis that I could expect to live 15 years less because of diabetes; something I casually announced to my sister one night when we were out for dinner. Through tears, she made me promise to never say that again, and I just hope she’s not reading this right now.

But even though there was nothing in there that made me feel especially concerned, I did bristle at the conclusion of the article, in particular this:

‘Linking poor glycaemic control to expected mortality … may incentivise … people with diabetes and poor control to increase their efforts to achieve targets.’

I’m ignoring the language here, because even more problematic than the specific words in here is the sentiment which I read as ‘scare people and threaten them with early death to try harder’. Unsurprisingly, I find that horrendous. Equally horrendous is the assumption that people are not already trying as hard as they possibly can. It’s not possible to increase efforts if someone is already putting in the maximum.

Over the last twenty-two years, my diabetes management has sat at pretty much every single data point along the ‘glycaemic control’ spectrum, from A1Cs in the 4s and 5s all the way up to the mid-teens. There is no way that being told that I was going to die earlier would have made me pull up my socks to do better. In fact, it’s likely that if anyone had, at any point (but especially when I was sitting way above target), told me that I was sending myself to an early grave, all that would have done was send me further into the depressive burnout hole I was already cowering in.

It’s tough going knowing that the health condition that I’m doing everything in my power to manage as best as I possibly can is going to contribute to cutting my life short; that despite those efforts, I am likely to see fewer years of my daughter’s life and be outlived by most of my friends. Placing any of the blame for that on me for that makes me feel even worse.

I’m not here to argue with the article – it was an analysis of an audit of data out of England. I’m not here to say that this sort of information shouldn’t be shared, because of course it should be. Understanding outcomes, what drives them, interventions that can help and any other factor that provides better results for people with diabetes is a brilliant thing. These sorts of results could be used to highlight when and how to intensify and prioritise treatment options.

I do, however, question the way that the information will be used. Also, from the article:

‘Communication of life years lost from now to patients at the time of consultation with healthcare professionals and through messages publicised by advocacy groups … and … national/international patient facing organisations will be of great help in terms of disseminations of the conclusions of this study.’

I would be really dismayed if I saw any diabetes organisation using this information in a comms campaign, as I fear it could add concern and trauma to people living with diabetes. I worry about how it could be interpreted by well-meaning loved ones to say, ‘If you don’t start looking after yourself, you’re going to die,’ or something similar.

For the record, one of the other studies highlighted in the email was about hot baths and diabetes. The lowdown on that is having regular hot baths may improve cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes. I’m going to do an n=1 study to see if that also helps people with diabetes.

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