What Not to Say to the Newly Diagnosed

When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I recall the numerous comments that people blurted out in an attempt to make me feel better about my situation.  But the truth was that I just needed to be treated like everyone else.  I was in the midst of a confusing, depressing, and life-altering diagnosis.  The last thing I needed was a pat on the back that felt more like a slap in the face.

If you know someone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, there are certain comments and questions from which you should refrain:

—“At least it’s not cancer!”   Whatever the diagnosis, it’s a really big deal to the person facing a medical challenge.  Minimizing the magnitude of the disease is degrading and disheartening.

—“They’ll cure diabetes soon!”   A newly diagnosed person is trying to grasp the reality of the disease.  Right now there is no cure, only the option of managing the disease through diet, exercise, and medications.

—“Should you be eating that?”   A person with diabetes is, first and foremost, a person. Do not police their food choices, just as you wouldn’t want anyone policing yours.

—“If anyone can handle this disease, it’s you.”  Although this comment is meant to compliment your determination, the reality is that no one wants diabetes.

—“My uncle has diabetes and had his legs amputated, and he’s now on dialysis.”  Diabetes has numerous potential complications, all of which you probably know about already.   Horror stories need not be shared, as they only discourage.

If you feel that you must say something, consider the following:

—“You are doing a great job managing your disease.”   Recognize the tremendous efforts a newly diagnosed person is making.

—“Can you tell me more about diabetes?”  It’s always better to ask than to make assumptions about a topic you do not understand.   By asking this question, you are validating the person’s knowledge and demonstrating that you truly care.

—“Can I prepare any particular food for you?”   When hosting a meal, keeping the dietary needs of all your guests in mind—-whether they are vegetarian, gluten-free, diabetic, or something else—is considerate. You can also host a potluck so that each guest can bring a dish that he or she is comfortable consuming and sharing.

—“What can I do to support you?”  Diabetes can be a daunting, all-consuming disease.   Rather than assuming that a particular action or comment is helpful, offering to support people with diabetes prompts them to suggest what they need.



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