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Why language matters in diabetes care

Professor Cathy Lloyd’s research supports healthcare professionals worldwide to help people live better with diabetes, ensuring they feel heard, not judged.

“Sadly, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding diabetes.” Professor Lloyd explains. “As a result, people with the condition can experience feelings of shame, guilt and resentment, and periods of depression and anxiety.”

Words of encouragement

The language that healthcare professionals use when caring for people with diabetes can profoundly impact how well they live with it. “If a doctor says things like ‘should you be eating that?’ to someone with diabetes, that person will likely feel judged and discouraged”, Lloyd argues. “But if they ask appropriate questions to explore why the person with diabetes is eating certain things and listen, without judgement, that person will become more engaged in their self-care, which is vital for their long-term health.”

Language is especially crucial when caring for people from different cultural backgrounds. “Ensuring healthcare is inclusive means more than just translating for people whose first language isn’t English. For example, it’s crucial to understand that words such as ‘depressed’ and ‘anxious’ can have vastly different connotations for people from different cultures”, Lloyd notes. “We must also tailor advice taking into account cultural and religious practices around diet.”

A worldwide movement

As a member of Language Matters, a global movement of people with diabetes, healthcare professionals and researchers, Lloyd helped the NHS develop new practical guidelines for healthcare professionals on appropriate language to use. Diabetes groups have also replicated the recommendations in publications in India, Canada and Kenya.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Lloyd took her insights online to share recommendations with healthcare professionals through webinars supported by people with diabetes. “It’s a massive understatement to say the NHS has been amazing during these past few years”, she argues. “Despite a global pandemic, these healthcare professionals have rallied to put these recommendations into practice. Thanks to them, there is now much greater awareness of the importance of language in helping people with diabetes live well with the condition.”