Have you ever felt overwhelmed by diabetes? On a bad day, it can seem impossible to get your blood glucose under control, no matter what you do.
I feel you. To manage your condition well, there are just so many things you need to do – from figuring out the foods you can eat, what to do when your blood glucose levels are high or low, and whether your exercise plan is really working. The learning curve for diabetes is really steep.
But.. you’re not alone! Your friends, family and healthcare team can be an important source of support and motivation. It’s easier to cope with diabetes when you have a strong network of people supporting you.
More importantly, other people with diabetes can make a big difference in your life too. Imagine being able to talk freely and share experiences with other people facing the same problems and issues that you are, and who understand what you’re going through first hand. That’s something your doctor or nurse won’t be able to provide, as knowledgeable as they are.
What kinds of diabetes support groups are there?
Generally, most support groups can be divided into in-person and online groups. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Tech savvy & younger people often prefer an online support group, where they can ask questions which can be too embarrassing to bring up at an in-person session. Such groups are bridge geographies and are accessible from anytime and any location.
Other people may be prefer an in-person support group, which often has strong ties to community resources and knowledge about local culture. It is also easier to build human relationships and connections from face-to-face contact.
Diabetes support groups comes in all shapes and sizes. It only requires someone to take the initiative to get a group going. You can even start one yourself! But if haven’t had any experience with support groups, I’d advise you to join one first.
In-person Diabetes Support Groups
These are groups where members meet up face to face on a regular basis, often led by a facilitator. This could be a diabetes educator, nurse or someone living with diabetes. Each session may last 1 – 1.5 hours. During each session, there is usually a main topic for discussion, and the group leader guides the conversation so everyone gets a fair opportunity to speak up and share. Sometimes, there may be invited speakers who will give a short talk on a specific topic and answer questions.
If you’re not comfortable with using the internet or social media, or if you’re wary of talking to strangers online, meeting with people in real life may be easier than learning how to log on to an online discussion board or sign up for a daily email list.
It’s easier to establish a real connection and relationship with other people when meeting in person
You may not be able to find a support group meeting with a timing and location that’s convenient to get to, depending on where you stay
You have to spend time travelling to and fro to the meeting location
Online Diabetes Support Groups
With the advent of smartphones and social media, many diabetes support groups have sprung up online, in various forms. It’s an easy way to get started, right from the comfort of your home.
Online discussions are essentially anonymous, and advice is often not vetted by a qualified health professional. Hence, you should use your personal judgement and not believe everything you see or read. Before making any changes to your treatment on your own, you should talk with your primary doctor.
Facebook has over 1.2 billion active users every month, and it’s not surprising that this is one of the most common online support groups. Many groups are closed groups, and require approval from an admin to join in the discussions. Members post up questions which get answered by other peers, photos of the meals and glucometer readings, and share interesting & relevant articles.
If you’re already on Facebook, you can get started right away and join a group without have to register or setup a new account.
It’s an easy platform to communicate and discuss with other members
You can interact with other people with diabetes from various parts of the world without leaving your house
Privacy: Your membership is linked to your personal Facebook account. This means that your facebook friends can see that you’re a member of the diabetes support group, which you may not want
Spam: Less well-moderated groups often receive postings from commercial parties promoting their health supplements, health programs or other agendas
This is the traditional online message board that has been around since the internet was born. Because many of these forums have been around for 10+ years, some of them have accumulated tens of thousands of users.
To ask a question, you can post a new thread and wait for members to reply. Or you can jump in on existing topic discussions. Registration is simple and usually just requires an email address for confirmation
Active forums often have very senior members who are enthusiastic about sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience with others
Less visual compared to Facebook groups
Feels less like a community, since focus is placed on the message/topic rather than on the people (eg people often use avatars instead of their real photos)
Mailing lists (eg Yahoo! groups, Google Groups) have also been around for a long time. Some of these involve members who also meet up in person for activities, while others are purely online communities.
Most communication in these groups is via email: you send an email out to the group, and every one subscribed to it receives a copy of the email, to which they can reply. If a particular conversation is highly active, you may receive tens of emails a day. But don’t worry, you can set filters (eg daily or weekly digests where you get a summary of all emails at regular intervals)
How to find the right support group
Now that you know there are so many options available to you, how do you then decide which diabetes support group is best for you? Here are a couple of tips:
- Speak with the organiser of the group. Find out what his/her credentials are – for example, is he/she a health professional or an individual living with diabetes. You’ll also get a better understanding of how the group runs, and whether it is suitable for you
- Attend a couple of meetings or participate in a few discussions, before deciding on one to get involved in regularly. Different groups have different objectives, people and culture.
- Ask your nurse educator, dietitian or doctor if he/she has any recommendations for support groups. He/she may be able to recommend one that is most suitable for you.
How to get the most out of your support group
Your new diabetes support group can be a strong source of motivation and information. To get the best of your time with the group:
- Be an active member of the group : ask questions, share your personal successes and failures, and help new members out.
- Be positive and non-judgemental : the goal of the group is to support one another in a low-pressure environment. Encourage rather than criticise
- Listen actively : even if you don’t have the answers or can’t help, just being attentive to your group members will help them a lot. sometimes, its just about lending a listening ear.
List of available diabetes support groups
In-person Diabetes Support Groups
Touch Diabetes Support (Singapore) runs several support groups where members can know one another better through small group discussions.
Joslin Diabetes Center (US) has several different support groups catering separately to women, children, couples
Meetup.com groups are an interesting hybrid, where members often meet up at regular intervals in real-life, but can also continue the discussions online using the website or mobile app
Online Diabetes Support Groups
Diabetes SG (Singapore) : an online community for people with Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes Straight Talk (International) : Focusing on nutrition and low carbohydrate diets
Gestational Diabetes (international) : Focusing on pregnant mothers coping with diabetes
Diabetes Support Group (Australia) : an online support group for people and family with diabetes
DLIFE (India) : Diet forum for obesity and diabetes treatment
TuDiabetes (US) : a community of people touched by diabetes, a program of the Diabetes Hands Foundation
DSS Diabetes Support Group (Singapore) : an online community of the Diabetes Society of Singapore
Diabetes support groups can be a new and great source of support if you’re living with diabetes. These groups come in various forms and flavours, including in-person and online communities. The best way to find the right support group is to speak with the group’s organiser and try it our or attend a few sessions. If you actively participate, ask questions and share experiences, you will be able to get the most out of your time spent.