National Diabetes Week (Q&A with Dr Keely Bebbington)
Olivia, Natasha and Keely from the children's diabetes centre mental health team
For National Diabetes Week, we sat down with Dr Keely Bebbington, mental health and wellbeing research theme lead at the Rio Tinto Children’s Diabetes Centre and McCusker Postdoctoral Research Fellow in type 1 diabetes, to talk about her amazing work in research.
Living with diabetes is relentless and exhausting. There is no break when managing this 24 hours, 7 days a week chronic condition. Recent data by Diabetes Australia revealed that 700,000 Australians living with diabetes struggle with their mental health.
As part of National Diabetes Week 2022 ‘Heads Up on Diabetes’ campaign, this week focuses on reducing community stigma and improving access to mental health services for those living with diabetes. To help raise awareness of diabetes related stigma we want to help in changing the conversation and challenge common beliefs people may hold about diabetes.
Dr Keely Bebbington is a McCusker Postdoctoral Research Fellow in type 1 diabetes (T1D) at the Telethon Kids Institute – a Fellowship that was established in response to the need for a dedicated focus on the mental health and wellbeing of young people with Type 1 Diabetes and their families. Keely leads the Mental Health and Wellbeing research theme at the Rio Tinto Children’s Diabetes Centre working with her team to understand and improve mental health and psychosocial functioning in youth with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and their families. She has a particular interest in supporting carers of young children living with T1D to raise healthy, confident children.
We asked her a few questions to learn more about her research work and the impact of diabetes on mental health.
Why are you passionate about Diabetes Research?
I have always had an interest in health psychology and diabetes is a condition that is both relentless and demanding. In my time working in diabetes research, I’ve met some really wonderful families and learned a lot about their experiences of diagnosis and their resilience in responding to the ups and downs of living with diabetes. I’m really motivated to find ways to support families with this journey and reduce the burden of living with diabetes.
*Research found that four out of five people living with diabetes have experienced stigma at some point. What impact can this have on a person’s mental health and wellbeing?
Unfortunately, the experience of stigma is very common for people living with diabetes. Our own research found that this issue is particularly pertinent for adolescents living with T1D for whom peer relationships are incredibly important and there can be a strong desire to ‘fit in’. The experience of stigmas is often associated with feelings of embarrassment and shame and can negatively impact the way we see ourselves/our identity or sense of self.
There is emerging evidence that the experience of stigma in also associated with poorer glycaemic control in both adolescents and adults with T1D. One possible explanation for this is that people who feel stigmatised because of their diabetes may be reluctant to engage in important self-management tasks (e.g. checking glucose levels, administering insulin) in public as they may fear negative reactions from others. People with T1D may also avoid disclosing their diagnosis to others which can limit their access to support.
How can we support people living with diabetes?
If you have a friend or family member living with diabetes, I think the first thing you can do to support them is to learn a bit about diabetes, starting with the different types of diabetes and also how it’s treated. One source of frustration for many people living with diabetes is the experience of having to correct misconceptions about the condition. There are fantastic resources available online that explain a lot about what diabetes is, and how it’s managed.
Try to be open and curious about what diabetes is like for them. Everyone’s experience of living with diabetes will be unique in some way, so try not to make assumptions, particularly about things like diet. Listen to what sort of help, if any, they may want from you. That might involve learning to recognise the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar, or it might mean being someone that they can vent to if they are feeling a bit burned out by managing their diabetes.
What studies are currently underway in mental health and wellbeing at the Children’s Diabetes Centre?
We have a fantastic program of work focused on the mental health and wellbeing of children and their families living with type 1 diabetes. For instance, we are currently exploring the experiences of emerging adults who have moved from paediatric to adult services to better understand how to make this transition smoother. We are also conducting a pilot study of a short, stress management intervention for carers of young children with type 1 diabetes to see if we can support their mental health and wellbeing.
Find out more about Keely and her team’s projects here.