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Grandmother with family at table.
Social support is critical for achieving optimal health outcomes.

People as social beings

Sociologists describe humans as social beings who find meaning through social interaction.

When a person is diagnosed with, or discloses that they have diabetes, this can impact on how others see them and therefore how they see themselves.

Social roles

A wider impact of illness on self is how it affects the person’s perception of their identity and social roles, for example as a parent, employee or friend. From this perspective having diabetes may from time to time affect the person’s ability to fulfil a social role or responsibility they would otherwise be expected to, which requires re-adjustment.

Social networks and interpersonal relationships are important in adapting to chronic illness (Kovanovic & Manderson, 2006) and making necessary adjustments. Social support has a positive impact on self-management of diabetes, and attitudes of family, friends and health professionals can impact on renegotiation of social roles and identity post-diagnosis (Kovanovic & Manderson, 2006).

Over the lifespan, the course of diabetes may alter or change with periods of relative stability and good control as well as episodic periods of instability or complications. During periods of instability there may be the need for additional self-care strategies, and support from family, friends and health professionals.

While additional support may be welcomed, it may be experienced as overwhelming, impacting on the person’s sense of self and self-efficacy. However, inadequate social support from family and friends can also be a barrier to self-care (Restroick Roberts, Betts Addams & Beckette Warner, 2017).

Social relationships

Certain features of social relationships, such as involvement and support characterised by warmth, collaboration and acceptance are associated with good diabetes outcomes (Wiebe, Helgeson & Berg, 2016). Whereas social relationships where there is under-involvement of family and social partners, with interactions characterised by conflict and criticism associated with poor diabetes outcomes (Wiebe et al., 2016).

Intrusive involvement with elements of social control (eg criticism, undermining and nagging) that impacts on self-efficacy tends to undermine diabetes management, therefore interventions that focus on increasing family member’s skills in communicating their support and ability to identify situations where they undermine the individual’s self-efficacy may be particularly important (Wiebe et al., 2016).

Life transitions, as discussed in the previous step, life transitions can bring new or changed social circumstances which can interfere with self-care and make it difficult to manage diabetes. Social and professional support during these times is necessary to achieve optimal self-management and health outcomes (Rasmussen et al., 2011). It is therefore important for health professionals to discuss social support during life transitions (Rasmussen et al., 2011).

Health professionals require an understanding of the social experiences associated with diabetes in order to provide appropriate and sensitive care. Discussion and addressing psychological and social aspects of self is valuable in encouraging positive health behaviours and self-management (Restorick et al., 2016).

Your task

As you can see a diagnosis of diabetes can impact on how others see the person and also how they see themselves.

How do you think living with diabetes impacts on the social self? 

Think about a social role you play, describe how this would be impacted by illness/diabetes?

Share your ideas with other learners in the comments. Remember to join this discussion and respond and comment when others share their ideas.


Kokanovic, R., & Manderson, L. (2006). Social support and self-management of type 2 diabetes among immigrant Australian women. Chronic Illness, 2(4), 291–301. 
Rasmussen, B., Ward, G., Jenkins, A., King, S. J., & Dunning, T. (2011). Young adults’ management of type 1 diabetes during life transitions. Journal of Clinical Nursing, (13–14). 
Restorick Roberts, A., Betts Adams, K., & Beckette Warner, C. (2017). Effects of chronic illness on daily life and barriers to self-care for older women: A mixed-methods exploration. Journal of Women & Aging, 29(2), 126–136. doi:10.1080/08952841.2015.1080539
Wiebe, D. J., Helgeson, V., & Berg, C. A. (2016). The social context of managing diabetes across the life span. American Psychologist, 71(7), 526–538. doi:10.1037/a0040355 

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