Tips for Teens: Talking about T1D around friends

Having type 1 diabetes (T1D) can add an extra layer of stress over and above the stress of being a teenager. As if school, making new friends and navigating social situations isn’t hard enough already! More likely than not, it won’t be a big deal when you tell your friends you have diabetes…and your friends will probably appreciate you opening up! But, since it is your diabetes, it is up to you when (and if) you tell them. As you get older you will be making decision about your diabetes and this is one of them! 

The important people in our lives, whether they are friends, family, or romantic interests often don’t understand what it’s like to have type 1 diabetes—much like you before you were diagnosed. But, by educating them about your T1D – including what it is, how you manage it (e.g., checking your blood sugar, taking insulin, carb counting, etc.), and signs of low blood sugar as well as what to do in an emergency, they can help support you. You should also reassure your friends that, although you may need to figure out how to manage your diabetes in different situations, diabetes shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to do (or eat) or what you have typically done before – you are still you! You may feel more comfortable carrying out your diabetes management tasks while around them once they know (e.g., checking your sugar or taking insulin). Although having diabetes can be a drag, you can’t forget about it just because you are out with friends.    

Letting People Know How to Help in Emergencies

One key reason to share your type 1 diabetes with others is that they can take action to help you if an emergency situation arises.  This will be especially important when you are on a sports team – to let your coach (and maybe some teammates) know that you have T1D if the school nurse or your parents haven’t spoken to them. Make sure to inform your coaches, teammates, and friends that you hang out with a lot (or ask your parents’ help) about how to recognize the symptoms of and treat a severe low blood sugar in case you are unable to treat it yourself. If you are unresponsive, unconscious, or having a seizure, they will need to give you glucagon or call 911 if glucagon is not available. So teaching them how to use glucagon and when they should give it is very important. 
It is also very important to always wear medical identification bracelet or necklace stating your name, that you have type 1 diabetes, and who to contact in case of an emergency. This way, if there is an emergency and no one is around that knows you have diabetes, emergency responders or bystanders can help you.  

Talking to Romantic Partners

When you have type 1 diabetes and are involved in a romantic relationship with someone, diabetes is bound to come up sooner or later. When getting to know a new partner in your life, it’s your choice how to approach disclosing your type 1 diabetes.  Do you bring it up on the first date, or wait until you know each other a little bit better? Whenever you choose to share is up to you- you need to feel comfortable. Remember that there is no need to hide your type 1 diabetes- there is so much more to you than your T1D. 
In more serious relationships it is important for you to communicate about diabetes, how you manage it and what to do in an emergency since you will probably be spending a lot of time with that person. If they want to help support you, you should tell them what would be helpful (instead of them unintentionally trying to help but do something that aggravates you).  
Although living with type 1 diabetes isn’t your choice and most people would wish it would go away or want to forget about, the truth is you will still need to manage it while juggling everything your friends do – school work, sports, activities, hanging out with friends, dating, etc. Telling people about your T1D may help you fit your diabetes into your lifestyle instead of your life around diabetes.  

Getting Support for your T1D 

Getting support for anyone living with type 1 diabetes is important – going through life changes as a teenager may make it even more important. Reach out to a person on your diabetes treatment team – your doctor, nurse, diabetes educator, psychologist, dietician, or social worker. They can help listen and help you get support if you want it. 

Talking with your friends and family can be helpful. They often will want to help support you, so asking for what you need (rather than having them guess or do something unintentionally unhelpful) will be important. Depending on your relationships with your family and friends, it can sometimes be difficult to talk to them. Talking with other people with type 1 diabetes can helpful.  Many people have found that joining a local diabetes support group at their diabetes treatment center or joining one online to be very useful. In addition, almost all kids and teenagers that go to diabetes camp can’t wait to go back. They make lifelong friends that understand what it is like to grow up with diabetes. You don’t need to do diabetes alone- get support! Join your local JDRF chapter and get involved, learn more and find the support you need.