Online Communities Are Valued by People With Type 1 Diabetes for Peer Support: How Well Do Health Professionals Understand This?

  1. Rosemary McKenzie, BA, PGDip Health Promotion, MPH

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, incurable, and life-threatening metabolic illness. Management demands of the condition are complex and intensive, and clinical management requires a specialist multidisciplinary team.1,2

Despite the support of health providers, the daily management tasks of type 1 diabetes are all actions that people with diabetes must carry out themselves to prevent acute and chronic physical complications. This responsibility may bring with it significant psychological strain.3 Furthermore, although health outcomes are controllable to a significant extent, fluctuations in health status are inevitable, and complications can befall even the most diligent illness managers. The resulting uncertainty and knowledge of the potential for death or disability can compound the psychological strain.4 There can also be a tangible burden associated with the considerable time, energy, and focus required to establish and maintain metabolic control, which places considerable strain on patients' ability to attend to occupational, social, familial, and personal needs and desires.3,58 Social stigma may also be associated with carrying out the demands of diabetes management.

Together, these experiences often leave individuals with diabetes feeling isolated from members of their immediate social network who may fail to understand their daily experiences. Seeking connection with others with the same medical condition is one strategy that people in this situation pursue, and the resulting process has been termed “peer support.”9

Peer support has been defined as assistance by a person who has experiential knowledge of the specific health issue and similar characteristics as the target population.10,11 Fisher12 describes peer support's role in health behavior change as assisting people with chronic disease to translate a plan developed with or by a health professional into action.

Peer support can be delivered in many different forms. As theories for implementing …

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