How and Where to Find In-Person Support Groups and Social Activities for Young Adults with Diabetes
By Kara Miecznikowski
Diabetes is complex and difficult, but a strong support group can help young adults get through it. Learn about the advantages of a peer support group and where to find one.
Friends and family can be wonderful sources of support and encouragement, but for many young adults with diabetes, it’s also valuable to connect with those like them, who can empathize with the challenges and victories unique to this condition.
This is where peer support groups can play a powerful role, providing a space to connect with other people who share similar experiences. Often held in community-based settings, such as places of worship, classrooms, and community centers, these groups can consist of casual or topic-focused conversations, group speakers, or social activities. Some peer support groups went virtual during the pandemic, while others, depending on the location, have continued as is, or have returned to, in-person. Those who participate in these groups say that the peer connection they provide is a major component of their diabetes- (and life-) management strategy.
“The burden of having diabetes can be especially rough as one enters early adulthood and experiences major life transitions, such as going to college and managing diabetes on their own for the first time,” said Krystle Samai, vice president of mission at the College Diabetes Network (CDN), a national organization with chapters at over 120 colleges across the US.
“Connecting with peers who are going through the same experience can help make the transition easier because of the immediate sense of support and community that is fostered by interacting with others who ‘just get’ what life with diabetes is like,” she said.
Shay Webb, a diabetes advocate and clinical trial coordinator who is completing her master’s degree at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, said, “There is a sense of fraternal familiarity when people share the same chronic illness.”
Benefits of joining a peer-support group might include:
Connecting with others who share your experience – connecting “builds community,” Webb said. “If I need support, or supplies, I have a community that can empathize with me rather than sympathize.”
Sharing strategies, tips, and recommendations for managing your diabetes.
Finding solidarity and empowerment in voicing your thoughts, feelings, and concerns with people who share them.
Motivating and inspiring other people with diabetes in your community (and vice versa)!
“My favorite experience pertaining to peer support has been with my ‘diabestie’ since high school. We met as JDRF Gala Ambassadors and made a connection as two type 1, extroverted, Black girls who enjoyed the arts,” said Webb, who has long taken part in such groups. “This experience has not only allowed us to connect in a diabetes realm, but a fraternal one as well, resulting in us bringing awareness and knowledge to our respective sororities and our community.”
What to Expect
While participating in a peer support group offers many benefits, it shouldn’t replace professional healthcare advice – always talk to your healthcare provider before changing how you manage your diabetes. Advice and strategies that work for some members of the group may not work for you. Regardless, joining a support group is an opportunity to find encouragement from others and feel a part of a larger community.
In conjunction with your healthcare team and other sources of support, a peer support group can elevate your diabetes management and quality of life to a new level. However, don’t be discouraged if a peer support group isn’t the right fit for you – some prefer to talk about their diabetes solely with close friends and family.
For Will Jennette, a program coordinator for CDN and who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just six months before heading off to college at George Mason University, support groups gave him the grounding he needed.
“My peer support network was critical to my success in college,” Jennette said. “After my diagnosis, I only had a few months to learn how to manage diabetes, and also get off to college. When I arrived, I barely knew how to count carbs. The community of [people with type 1 diabetes] that I met via [my peer network and CDN] really helped me feel supported as I stumbled, learned, and grew both as a person and in my diabetes journey.”
For Parents of a Child with Diabetes
Parents can encourage their children join a peer support group by talking with them about the potential benefits. It’s best to start slow – don’t expect them to immediately feel comfortable sharing personal experiences with others. If this is the case, you might offer to attend a session with them, if allowed.
In her role at CDN, Samai has seen such reluctance to share one’s story dissipate with time. She asked that parents and loved ones be encouraging with young people but not push them to open up in a group setting before they are ready. When they are, support will be waiting.
“It’s okay to not feel comfortable sharing [your] diabetes with others – it’s important to wait until you do feel comfortable before you open up,” she said. “And when you are ready to talk about it, know that it will help you connect more deeply with others. Diabetes is a big part of our lives – whether or not we like it – and sharing something with that significance can help ease the burden of dealing with it on your own.”
Peer support groups can vary in structure, formality, and time commitment – if there are multiple opportunities for peer support in your area, explore your options and determine what best suits you or your child’s needs. Reaching out to other parents who have children with diabetes and asking if they have any experience or recommendations for peer support groups in your area can be helpful.
Finding a support group
Options to join a peer support group to talk about your experience with diabetes include the following:
In the United States
American Diabetes Association – The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has offices around the country that can help connect you with peer support resources in your community. Reach out to your local ADA office to find a support group near you.
Defeat Diabetes Foundation – The Defeat Diabetes Foundation (DDF), which works to provide community-based programs, outreach, and resources to people with diabetes, has a support group directory, with support groups organized by state.
College Diabetes Network – The College Diabetes Network (CDN) aims to help college students with diabetes connect with other students on campus who share their experience. “There are CDN Chapters at colleges and universities across the country. These peer-run groups provide a way for students to meet in person and connect, laugh, and share the ups and downs about life with diabetes on campus,” said Samai. Find a chapter of CDN on your campus here.
JDRF – JDRF, which specializes in type 1 diabetes research, puts on several community events throughout the year, including community support groups. Find your local JDRF chapter here.
Outside of the United States
United Kingdom – Diabetes UK has support groups across the United Kingdom. Find a support group in your area by entering your postal code on the Diabetes UK website.
Ireland – Diabetes Ireland runs support groups in 15+ counties across Ireland. A list of these counties and contact information can be found here.
Australia – Diabetes NSW & ACT has a list of support groups throughout New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, with meeting times and contact information for each.
Canada – Diabetes Canada has regional offices that are involved in communities across the country. Contact the Canadian Diabetes Association office in your area to find out about peer-support groups in your community.
No matter where you are
Talk to your healthcare provider and diabetes care and education specialist – Reach out to your diabetes care team. They may be able to direct you to local resources in your community, including support groups.
Explore your community – Check out your local community center for diabetes events such as educational workshops and organized walks/runs where you can meet other people with diabetes and learn of support groups in your community. If there is not yet a support group established in your community, consider starting one!
Other Resources for Support
While peer support groups are a direct way to find support in your community, there are a variety of other ways to meet people with diabetes and build up your support network.
Participating in fundraising and awareness-raising activities can be a great way to get involved in your local diabetes community. Many communities have fundraisers for diabetes-related causes such as research and education – you can even start your own.
Camps and conferences are another great way for young adults to meet. The ADA runs 45+ camp programs for children and teens each summer; an even more comprehensive list of camps across the US can be found here. Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a not-for-profit organization that aims to educate and motivate people with diabetes, hosts conferences for people with diabetes multiple times a year. In addition, the Friends for Life Conferences help families with diabetes connect with others and offer educational sessions where you can learn about diabetes management ideas and participate in discussion groups.