The teenage years are difficult enough without the added burden of being diagnosed with diabetes. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that the number of people with diabetes in South Africa is around 840 000. According to The World Health Organization (WHO) and IDF, it is predicted that these numbers will increase to more than 1.3 million in the next 25 years.
Diabetes is a chronic, progressive disease that destroys your vital energy. The inability to produce insulin impedes body functions such as thought, growth and movement. Often referred to as the 'silent killer' because of its often vague onset of symptoms; undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes can be fatal.
Fortunately, it is possible to inject insulin and control the disease under strict supervision. However, the treatment is severe, radical and lasts a lifetime.
Severe psychological impact
So it's not surprising that the disease has a severe psychological impact, particularly on teenagers who are already struggling to find their place in the world. Diabetes can lead to a negative self-image, a breakdown in the family system, rejection by the school system and even by peers.
A group of concerned healthcare professionals has set up a unique organisation, Kids & Care South Africa, to increase awareness of this silent epidemic.
Psychologist and founder Dr Cobi de Jong said it is important that both teenagers and parents alike are educated on the disease, its symptoms and its treatment, if they are to lead as normal a life as possible.
"Teenagers in particular are prone to depression, even more so when diagnosed with diabetes," explains Dr de Jong.
"This is a time of their life where they don't want to be different from their friends. Their life revolves around friends, study and sports, so diabetes is simply not part of their personal plan."
Reaching out to teens
Kids & Care South Africa is launching a special book targeting teenagers with diabetes. The book, called 'Here I am? with my diabetes' is the brainchild of Dr de Jong, who has specialised in the psychological impact of diabetes for the past 15 years.
Co-written by Hiske Faber who was diagnosed with diabetes when she was seven, 'Here I am? with my diabetes', takes the form of a diary which analyses the major issues teenagers with diabetes face.
It's aimed at empowering teenagers, helping them to understand not only the importance of diet and regular insulin injections, but also the fact that they are not alone, that being diabetic does not make them an outsider.
"Living with diabetes does not have to mean a lifelong sentence of no chocolates, no parties and no sports," explains Dr de Jong.
"If detected early enough, treatment can be very effective, and the more you know about your condition, the more you can do to help yourself stay healthy. A simple change in eating and living habits can greatly improve the quality of life of most diabetic teenagers. But early detection is critical to ensure that the impact of the illness is minimised."
Information is critical
Kids & Care co-founder Dr Jacobus van Dyk, a paediatrician linked to the Little Company of Mary Hospital, Femina Clinic and Pretoria University Clinic, said it was also critical that the correct information about diabetes must be disseminated in South Africa.
"There's a lot of misinformation about diabetes. What is wonderful about this book is that it is written from the perspective of a teenager, with accurate emotional, medical and psychological advice given for each issue. It is a fact that diabetes affects life at all levels, and teenagers in particular need to learn that they can never just put diabetes aside. They need to always watch what they eat and drink, and always make sure they take their insulin on time.
"We understand that teenagers don't want to be different, and we hope that this book will help them to understand that, even though they have diabetes, they are not different from their peers."
Should you wish to obtain more information regarding Kids and Care South Africa, kindly visit the web site on: www.kidsandcare.co.za