Earlier this year, Diabetes Scotland launched a new initiative called The Young Leaders Project, which aims to tackle the stereotypes, stigmas and obstacles that young people living with Type 1 diabetes in Scotland face every day.
Funded by Young Start via the Big Lottery Fund, The Young Leaders Project was created for young people across Scotland aged 16-25 to come together and tackle issues regarding Type 1 diabetes that are important to them.
With help from available funding, each Young Leader has an individual or joint project that they’re working on to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes within and out with the diabetic community – the project’s “umbrella goal.”
Katie Stewart, Youth Development Officer at Diabetes Scotland, said a huge reason for the project’s inception was a frequently voiced need for peer support among the Type 1 community.
Katie said: “A lot of our team members, before the project was even finalised, said that having a group of peers who are going through the same experiences would’ve helped them massively – particularly at transition age.”
There are two types of the most common form of diabetes. Diabetes UK estimates that 10 per cent of those who are living with diabetes in the UK have Type 1 diabetes, compared to 90 per cent of those living with Type 2 diabetes.
Of this, around 31,500 were children and young people living with diabetes under the age of 19. The vast majority of which were diagnosed with Type 1.
Emily Munn, Type 1 Young Leader, said: “A lot of people confuse Type 1 and Type 2 and just assume that people with Type 1 have diabetes because they’ve eaten too much sugar.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s nothing to do with your weight at all – weight is associated with Type 2.
“It’s just a lack of awareness.”
Diabetes UK states: “Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. This means that, for reasons not yet fully understood, a Type 1 diabetic’s immune system – which is meant to protect them from viruses and bacteria – attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in their pancreas.
“Insulin is crucial to life. When you eat, insulin moves the energy from your food, called glucose, from your blood into the cells of your body for storage.
“When the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas fail to produce insulin, glucose levels in your blood start to rise and your body can’t function properly.”
Young people living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes face more obstacles than those living without the chronic condition.
Young Leader, Emily, said: “It’s always having to focus on normal things. When you wake up in the morning it’s the first thing you have to think about.
“It’s always in the back of your head. Every time you eat you have to think, what am I eating, how much insulin do I have to take?”
All 13 of the current Young Leaders will be working on their own campaigns across Scotland.
Young Leader, Emily has decided to focus her campaign on raising awareness of “hypos” in the workplace. The word “hypo” is short for hypoglycaemia – when a diabetic’s sugar level drops dangerously below the functional threshold.
In terms of the workplace, Emily said: “It’s about knowing how to approach your employer.
“What information is essential, what do they need to know, what should they do in the case of a hypo, and what are the signs and symptoms.
“Also, everyone’s got their own set of symptoms, so you can’t assume two people with diabetes will react the same. They need a personalised document of what to do for you.”
Emily speaks from experience, believing her diabetes was not “prioritised” in the workplace of previous jobs. She said: “I think people don’t understand how important it is that you have a break to test your blood sugar levels and that you eat.
“You’re not just being greedy, you need to eat. It’s essential.
“I also can’t work to the best of my ability unless my sugar levels balanced. If I can’t function people just think ‘oh what’s wrong with her, that waitress isn’t very good.’”
Youth Development Officer, Katie Stewart, added: “It’s about supporting people to have the confidence to talk about it as well, because sometimes there are a lot of worries.
“Being treated differently or worrying that you’re potentially going to lose your job. Particularly if you’re on a zero-hour contract, worrying that you’re not going to get as many shifts or as long a shift as others.
“All these worries are sometimes just worries, but it can just completely prevent someone from talking to their employer or colleagues about it.”
Much of this year has been about “getting the projects off the ground and running.” Many projects are still in the planning phase, such as one Young Leader’s idea of a peer support group, particularly for transition years, opening in Glasgow clinics.
Katie said: “It’ll take the form of a drop-in centre where children and young people that have been to their appointment can then come in to see our Young Leaders.
“This gives them the chance to talk to other people of a similar age going through same stuff or a wee bit older who have been through the same stuff. To discuss worries that they might not want to talk about with their health care professional.”
Katie noted another Young Leader’s online campaign that has recently found its feet. She said: “Humans with Type 1, is one of our first projects that’s really taken off this year. Humans with Type 1 is like Humans of New York.
“I think it’s a really awesome way of sharing those little snippets of insight that you would never know sitting opposite someone who lives with Type 1, unless you followed them round for a day.”
The Young Leaders Project will be running until August 2018, so recruitment will be open until May next year. Katie said: “The first year was really about getting to know each other, discussing ideas and making plans.
“However, the next 7-8 months will be about getting things rolling and looking at making projects sustainable as well – should the Young Leaders wish to continue after the project has ended.”
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