Getting a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis can be incredibly hard on both the child and their family. Here’s how to manage the stress and keep your mental health on track.
Melissa Zimmermann will never forget the day her 15-month-old son, Carter, was air-lifted by ambulance—unresponsive and not breathing well—from a regional hospital in Red Deer to Alberta Children’s Hospital. In the intensive care unit, surrounded by multiple IV lines and monitors, “the doctor told us it was type 1 diabetes, and from that moment our lives changed completely.”
According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, 33,000 Canadian children ages 5 to 18 (which works out to roughly 1 in 195 children) have type 1 diabetes1—and a diagnosis like that can be incredibly stressful, not only for the child who is diagnosed, but for everyone in the family. In a 2020 global study conducted by Abbott, the makers of the FreeStyle Libre 2 flash glucose monitoring system, 93 percent of parents said they were distressed by the diagnosis while almost half of the children in the study said they perceive their illness as being a burden on their family2. Experts say that a child’s anxiety about the condition often increases in school and public places.
So how do you manage the stress of a diabetes diagnosis? Here are five ways to bring some peace of mind.
Learn more about it: After the initial diagnosis, Zimmermann and her husband went through a massive crash course in the management and treatment of diabetes, provided both by their son’s diabetes team and through the JDRF. “As you go through it and learn how to manage it, you see that diabetes doesn’t have to be a child’s entire life.” And remember to be gentle with yourself and your kid while you’re still learning about how to manage the disease.
Connect with others: If you have any friends who have kids with diabetes, reach out to them. When Canadian actress Jenna Warren was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 16, the first thing her dad did was text the father of one of her friends who also had diabetes. “Within 20 minutes, they were at the hospital reassuring me that I was going to be okay.” Other people who are living with diabetes can help you feel less lonely and overwhelmed. Search Facebook for groups of parents of kids with diabetes, or ask your child’s healthcare provider if they can recommend any support groups.
Find the right tools: Many parents hear a diabetes diagnosis and instantly think of painful daily finger pricks. But new technology is making glucose monitoring easier3, and pain-free4. Talk to your doctor about what will work for your child.
Talk about it: Dr. Ruth Slater, a psychologist who worked with SickKids Hospital in Toronto, encourages ongoing communication and open discussion within the family and diabetes team. “Stay engaged about how you’re feeling. Younger kids will be more apt to outwardly display their stress, while teens tend to become self-conscious and more private.” Talking openly about issues you’re all facing can be helpful—to solve problems and to simply get it off your chest. Experts suggest addressing concerns as they arise, keeping an ongoing list of questions for the professionals and even scheduling a weekly family meeting to share.
Enjoy life: “Remember, diabetes is just one of your things,” says Zimmermann. “It shouldn’t become all-encompassing for a family.” Encourage hobbies, sports, fun activities, and enjoyable, healthy eating.