It’s RUOK? day and while I am ready to jump on any worthwhile bandwagon, this one, today, seems especially important. A (non-diabetes) community of which I am on the periphery is grieving today after the death of a much-loved friend and colleague. I’ve been reading beautiful tributes to this person and messages of love and support to their family. I can’t begin to grasp what their loved ones are going through today.
RUOK? is more than a single day. It’s a movement that emphasises the power of human and social connection and having conversations about difficult things. If you’ve not looked at the website, there is advice about building the capacity of support networks (the very foundations of diabetes peer support groups for decades now) and developing skills to have meaningful discussions with someone who might be struggling.
It’s applicable to everyone, including those who may appear to not necessarily need it. Undeniably, it’s very relevant to diabetes. (This article outlines the increased risk of suicide in people with diabetes.)
Diabetes and mental health may be a topic on the agenda at most conferences and we’ve certainly seen an uptick in mental health and diabetes research over the last decade. But the strides that have been made are not enough. The pathway to genuine support and treatment for people with diabetes remains elusive. Simply telling people to seek help falls short when the help they need is not available.
Our peer networks go a long way to offering support, empathy, and love, but we’re not equipped to handle complex mental health issues. While we can assure people that they are not alone and perhaps offer suggestions for where they may find help, this does not go far enough in addressing mental health care, especially in critical situations. Accessing mental health professionals that have knowledge and training to support people with diabetes is what is needed. And it needs to be easily accessible. Easily affordable. Easily available. Right now, that’s not the case.
On RUOK? Day implores us to tap into our social circles and genuinely check in. (Do it, please; just do it). But there is a braider landscape of mental health in the diabetes landscape that needs real transformation. And while it seems unreasonable to add extra burden to those of us living with diabetes – after all, we are already expected to do so much of the physical, emotional, social, and political labour just to get by – community action drives change so often. We have had successful and coordinated community efforts to increase technology funding and access. Is our next frontier turning our attention to increasing funding and access to mental health care for people with diabetes? I know that some diabetes organisations have this in their sights, but without people with diabetes making noise, the campaign is only half-baked. Our voices amplify the urgency of the issue.
Today is just one day, but if RUOK? Day is what provides the gentle nudge to initiate these conversations, it’s a step forward. The tapestry of personal narratives, community connections and shared experiences form the basis of peer support. But not everyone has a safe space where they can share or the people to share with. Sometimes we need to reach out, extend a hand and signal we’re ready to listen. Keep reaching out. Today. And tomorrow. Every time you can.