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November is recognized as Diabetes Awareness Month, with November 14 marking World Diabetes Day. Both observances were created to raise awareness for diabetes- a chronic condition, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects over 37 million people in the U.S. alone.

Caswell Diabetes Institute (CDI) was formed so that the University of Michigan can lead the way in discovering and implementing methods to prevent, treat, and cure diabetes, obesity, and related metabolic diseases and complications. To do this, CDI sees it as essential to elevate the voices of individuals with diabetes and their families in ways that ensure our efforts are closely aligned to improve health outcomes and quality of life. The university is taking measures that not only shed light and raise awareness but ultimately improve the psychosocial concerns related to diabetes, which often pose primary issues for those impacted by the condition.

The Diabetes Mental Health Initiative, led by Briana Mezuk, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, helps CDI ensure support is provided to the whole person – physical, spiritual, and emotional. With regular input from U-M patients and families, this initiative aims to improve access to and delivery of psychosocial support while creating a global hub designed to lead research, training, and dissemination of best practices for addressing the emotional and mental health of persons living with diabetes across the lifespan.

Connected work by Kevin Joiner, Ph.D., RN, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Biological Sciences of the U-M School of Nursing, aims to reduce diabetes stigma. While the physical challenges of diabetes are well-documented, the toll taken by stereotypes and myths about diabetes is often overlooked. People with diabetes may face negative and irrational attitudes, behaviors, and judgments, or what has been identified as diabetes stigma. This “stigma” can manifest in various ways, including individuals with diabetes experiencing societal discrimination in addition to negative feelings and thoughts about themselves due to their diabetes. For those living with diabetes, these negative emotions and experiences are more common than one might realize. Joiner states, “Many times when talking about my research, others will share a story about their own experience -or that of a loved one- and what they believe to be diabetes stigma.”

Dr. Joiner is part of an international collaborative effort that is underway to stand up to diabetes stigma by galvanizing support across multiple sectors of society, including health care, industry, families, and communities. Dr. Joiner and his team have developed and published a Spanish-language translation of the Type 2 Diabetes Stigma Assessment Scale (DSAS-2), a patient self-administered questionnaire for measuring diabetes stigma. Using a simulated clinic environment through the HomeLab, Dr. Joiner and his team are piloting an intervention for healthcare providers who can play an important role in reducing diabetes stigma by being mindful of how some words can have negative meanings for people with diabetes and intentionally choosing words that are empowering. If you are a healthcare provider in primary care and interested in being a part of this research, please take this self-guided screener or call 734-680-7864.

These efforts, along with others, are prime examples of U-M research driving evidence-based patient-centered care and increasing support and resources for people living with diabetes.