I have been living with type 1 diabetes for almost 30 years (this October 19th marks my 30th diaversary) and I’ve worked in the diabetes industry for over 20 years. I’ve primarily focused my career on community education and peer programs and have seen time and time again how beneficial they are. But I’ve also heard, for a variety of reasons, that many are reluctant to take part in a community or join a group. And we think it might be due to some misconceptions or myths about peer programs. Here’s our list of the top ten myths about peer mentorship!

Myth #1: My healthcare team is the most important part of my diabetes management. 

YOU are the most essential part of your diabetes management. You manage your diabetes for 525,600 minutes per year. While your healthcare team is vital, research suggests that a peer community is just as important as an educated healthcare team.

Fisher et al. conducted a systematic review that analyzed data from peer support for diabetes management studies and concluded that,

“across diverse settings, including under-resourced countries and health care systems, PS [peer support] is effective in improving complex health behaviors in disease prevention and management including in diabetes.” 1

If you visit your diabetes healthcare provider (HCP) once per month for 20 mins, that’s only 240 minutes per year. Yah, it’s all you. Give yourself a high five – this is hard work! Regardless of the type of program, a peer community can help you in so many different ways. Emotional support, stress relief, guidance, learn to advocate for yourself, exposure to various management tools, techniques, devices, and medications, and the list goes on! Being around like-minded people going through the same thing – just.makes.sense.

Myth #2: I don’t need it – my diabetes is well managed. 

That’s awesome and we’re excited to hear that! Over the years, I’ve often heard the comment, “I didn’t know I needed it until I was there.” A peer program, whether that be an event or group, can fill a gap you didn’t know existed.

We can learn things from our peers that we just can’t from our team of doctors and nurses. For example, you might not be aware of specific tips and tricks that people with diabetes use concerning their devices, medications, insurance plans, or assistance programs. Peer groups can also help us fine-tune our diabetes management in different ways than our healthcare teams can. They are there when the going gets tough, and you need someone who “gets it.”

A good friend of mine, doing well and happily managing his diabetes, had no desire to use CGM (continuous glucose monitoring) technology. He attended an event and saw his friends using one and realized he could fine-tune things even more. It was because he saw others using it and was able to speak to them about their experiences; he decided to give one a try. Six years later, he’s still using one and doing better than ever.

Myth #3: I only need a peer community or mentor when first diagnosed.

Having someone walk you through what to expect or be there with you as learn can be impactful. But diabetes is lifelong, and that means it can change over time. Life ebbs and flows, and so can our management and ability to focus on it. Having people who “get it” and you can turn to can be beneficial at any stage!

Myth #4: A peer program is all about complaining. I don’t want to be part of a pity fest. 

We hope not! I know in my peer group I can post funny anecdotes (those things that only people living with diabetes would get a laugh out of), ask questions, figure out what to make for dinner, but yes, also vent if I need to.

The way I’ve managed my diabetes has changed over time throughout my life, and my peer group has been so helpful and empowering along the way. We hope our peer mentorship program will be a source of positive relationships and interactions.

Myth #5: My diabetes will be reversed if I join a mentorship program.

We wish this were always true. According to a small study 3, people diagnosed less than four years ago with type 2 diabetes found that drastic calorie reduction normalized blood glucose and insulin resistance. Thus, stopping diabetes in its tracks. However, this study did not include anyone using medication and had strict exclusion criteria. Therefore this result may not be true for everyone. Alongside lifestyle changes (nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction), sometimes medication is needed to help the body work more effectively and efficiently. Joining a program or group can help you find the resources and support you need to make those necessary changes and stay the course.

Myth #6: I will be shamed or judged for my choices or medications I’m using or not using.

We’re sorry to hear if that’s the experience you’ve had previously! For many communities and programs (including Facebook groups), most have guidelines each person must adhere to in order to participate. In our forum, there are Community Guidelines (rules for posting). Our Peer Mentorship Program encourages empowering language and not “shoulding” each other (“You should or shouldn’t do this.”) Instead, we speak from our own experiences, what has and has not worked. Each person is on their journey, and it takes time to reach your goals. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you (diabetes would be SO much easier if we could all do the exact same thing and get the same results!) Most times, you’ll need to experiment to find the combination of things that work for you, whatever those things may be. One step forward at a time.

Myth #7: It’s too much time. I don’t want to spend more time talking about diabetes.

via GIPHY

We totally get it! Joining any program involves a time commitment, but what you put in, you get out. We know that talking about our experiences creates a sense of connection and belonging, which can help us cope during difficult times. It can also be more efficient to talk about options and choices with real-life users before starting something new or making changes. Sharing what is going on, asking questions, learning from other’s challenges, and helping others can pay you back in dividends.

Myth #8: These types of programs don’t work.

We hope they do, and research shows they do work! Peer programs are an option or piece of a larger puzzle. It’s one area that can help you manage your diabetes, but you have to show up and participate. Specifically, in the Diabetes Daily peer mentorship program, we ask that you set some goals to work towards them and use the community for help. You create the goals, and they can be as small or grand as you like.

See what our previous program participants had to say:

“I really enjoyed my time chatting with others and seeing how others managed their diabetes. It [the program] gave different perspectives but I always felt very supported. I felt I also helped my mentor with their diabetes.” 

 

“I learned so much from my mentor! He had tons of knowledge and I changed a lot of my lifestyle based on information from my mentor and the group.” 

 

“I learned about diabetes technology that I would have not known about.” 

 

“I was very introverted and not ready to accept my diabetes. This program made me realize how important it is and that I can’t ignore it.” 

Myth #9: All of these programs are the same.

Every program is different and unique. Take Weight Watchers; for example, it previously focused on in-person group weigh-ins and meetings. Now, the program uses an app and online support to help members reach their weight loss goals. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is composed of in-person group meetings and a one-on-one sponsor relationship. Cancer support groups often meet in person with a social worker, mental health professional, or facilitator to discuss their experiences, feelings, and emotions. Diabetes Daily has an anonymous online forum where you can freely post your questions and answer other people’s. The re-launch of our mentorship program is more similar to AA, where you have a partner to connect one-on-one with and group sessions where you can learn from others’ experiences and stories.

Myth #10: It’s a diabetes education program.

Yes and no. It’s what we call peer support and peer education. By listening to others’ successes and their challenges, you learn about real-life experiences. For example, it’s invaluable to hear about a medication’s common side effects and address these with your doctor before trying something new. Not everyone will react the same, but we know sharing your tips and tricks can help others. Continuing to work with your healthcare team is vital as they are the ones who will address medications and any changes to those.

To learn more or join our peer mentorship for people living with type 2 diabetes, head to our Mentorship page. Registration closes August 28th, 2020, and the program begins September 1st. We hope you’ll join us!

References

1. Fisher, EB, Boothroyd, RI, Elstad, EA; “Peer support of complex health behaviors in prevention and disease management with special reference to diabetes: systematic reviews” (2017) Clinical Diabetes and Endocrinology DOI: 10.1186/s40842-017-0042-3  Accessed: 8/21/2020 https://clindiabetesendo.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40842-017-0042-3  

2. Warshaw H and Edelman D; “Building Bridges Through Collaboration and Consensus: Expanding Awareness and Use of Peer Support and Peer Support Communities Among People With Diabetes, Caregivers, and Health Care Providers” (2018) Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology DOI: 10.1177/1932296818807689 Accessed: 8/21/2020 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1932296818807689#

3. Lim, E.L., Hollingsworth, K.G., Aribisala, B.S. et al. “Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol” (2011) Diabetologia 54 DOI: 10.1007/s00125-011-2204-7 Accessed: 8/21/2020  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-011-2204-7#citeas

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