Diabetics ‘suffer in silence’ for fear of bullying at work

Kathy Burton kept her diabetes quiet
Kathy Burton kept her diabetes quiet

HUNDREDS of diabetes sufferers across Hastings are keeping their condition secret amid fears they could be ostracised by friends or work colleagues.

Around 8,100 people in 1066 Country are diagnosed with the condition - less than 1,000 fewer than Brighton and Hove.

But, according to a top diabetes charity, an estimated one in three of those could be risking their health by not telling friends and colleagues about their illness.

As part of nationwide awareness week, Diabetes UK conducted a survey which found 34 per cent of people with diabetes in the south east had, or were still, keeping their diabetes a secret.

Worryingly, almost half of these people (48 per cent) felt that not talking about their diabetes had impacted on how they manage their condition and over a third (35 per cent) felt this had affected their physical or emotional health.

More than a quarter of people (28 per cent) say the reason they kept their condition underwraps was fear of discrimination or bullying - with those people most likely to keep their diabetes a secret at work (60 per cent) or among friends (57 per cent).

Other reasons for staying tight-lipped were not wanting their diabetes to affect employment chances or because they were worried people would assume the condition was a result of an unhealthy diet.

Hastings woman Kathy Burton had her own reasons. She told the Observer she had been suffering for nine years, but never told the gym at which she regularly worked out.

“I have kept my diabetes secret because it seems to have become standard practice for a diabetic person to have to produce a doctor’s note to confirm it is OK for their patient to exercise,” she said.

“This is for insurance purposes only as far as I can see and I feel discriminated against by having to do this.

“It creates a Catch-22 situation because it would be beneficial to inform the gym that I am diabetic, in case of a severe hypoglycaemic episode, but if one does disclose one’s condition there is the hassle of having to obtain a doctors letter simply to tick an insurance box.”

And, according to the 45-year-old, it isn’t just when working out she keeps schtum.

“I don’t actively disclose the fact that I am diabetic, unless it is with close friends and family.

“It is sometimes difficult to tell them too much about the bad days because it is a lifelong condition and I don’t want to be treated as though I am fragile or in ill-health.

“I want them to see me as a normal healthy person that doesn’t require special care or attention because of my condition.”

She also says she was shocked when studying for a graduate course in complimentary healthcare and was taught to always get a GP’s permission before treating diabetics.

And, when she finally did admit to being a sufferer, she was told she needed a doctor’s note for other students to practise on her.

“I understand it is important sometimes to reveal your health history for certain forms of physical treatments,” she said.

“But because of the ignorance surrounding diabetes you are discriminated against – there is absolutely no reason that you can’t have a massage because of it. 

“It is much easier to deny you have it than admit it.”

Barbara Young, chief executive at Diabetes UK, said Kathy’s experiences were by no means rare. “We have to ask why so many people with diabetes keep it a secret,” she said.

“Learning to live with and managing diabetes is challenging enough without the physical and psychological impact of such a burden.

“It is hugely concerning that the health and well-being of so many people could be at risk as a result of discrimination or prejudice.”

For more information about diabetes and the support on offer, call 020 7424 1000 or contact your local GP.