Peer Support Helps Families New to the Type 1 Life

Having a child diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes can be traumatic, and adjusting to life with Type 1 can be a daunting task. Recent studies suggest that the best way to ensure quality diabetes care for children with Type 1 is to take care of their parents.

According to a study by the Yale School of Nursing, 33.5 percent of parents of children with Type 1 experience psychological distress around the time of a child’s diagnosis, and 19 percent of these parents still express such distress four years later. When a parent’s distress levels go up, a child’s blood sugar management suffers.

Often, families with newly diagnosed children are encouraged to seek professional counseling. A new study suggests there’s another group highly equipped to help – other parents of children with Type 1.

According to a Healio Endocrine Today report, researchers in the UK recently studied whether a parent-to-parent support group for those with children with diabetes would help families. During this program, 11 parents of children with Type 1 were trained to mentor a group of nine parents of children with newly diagnosed diabetes. During a 12-month intervention period, the mentors provided informational, affirmational, and emotional support to the newby parents for up to six months. Questionnaires were given at the beginning and end of the study interval.

Anecdotally, there was evidence that the program worked. Mentoring parents reported that the process of training to become mentors was positive and empowering, and allowed them to reflect on the progress they had made since the diagnoses of their own children. They also reported that their decision to become mentors was based on the support (or lack thereof) that they received when their children were first diagnosed. Parents of newly diagnosed children who went through the program believed it provided welcome and personalized support.

While most everyone affected by Type 1 diabetes knows the value of peer-to-peer support, it will probably take more work to clinically prove that programs structured around this kind of support have clear medical value. This study, while positive, was small, and it did not provide measurable yardsticks to prove the program led to better blood sugar control. More research will be needed to prove the value of such programs beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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Kate Doughty is a third-year student at the University of Virginia, where she is studying English with an area concentration in literary prose.

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