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