At CWD, we encourage families who have a child with diabetes to have honest conversations with the siblings of the child with diabetes about their experiences. We have learned through the many families who attend the Friends for Life conferences, and through our own personal experiences, that siblings have their own challenges with diabetes in the family.
It was not until I was a young adult that I truly realized the impact of my own diabetes on my siblings. We joked about how they were never allowed to have juice boxes and how I would use diabetes as an excuse to get out of chores. Though I don’t necessarily remember this, I’m sure that either I did, or it seemed that way to my siblings, and that it affected our relationships and our family dynamic.
Researchers in Turkey recently published an article about the impact of having a sibling with type 1 diabetes or cancer.1 The researchers surmise that since both diagnoses require long-term treatment, close monitoring, and are potentially life threatening, that the experiences of siblings for either diagnosis may have long-term emotional effects on the siblings.
Other studies have shown that siblings of people with type 1 diabetes experience emotions like worry, fear, anger, jealousy, sadness, guilt, and shame about their sibling with diabetes. These emotions can lead to behavioral, self-esteem, and social relation problems and are often overlooked by the health care team and in research.
The researchers in Turkey conducted interviews among 64 siblings of patients with cancer and 54 siblings of children with type 1 diabetes. The participants completed surveys to evaluate their emotions of shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression, among others.
Here are the key takeaways from their research:
- Psychiatric referrals were significantly higher for siblings and parents of either type of sibling compared to the control group
- The guilt scores of siblings of patients with cancer were similar to those of siblings with type 1 diabetes
- The higher the shame score, the more likely the depression and anxiety scores were increased
Another interesting takeaway that the authors noted was the parents of children with T1D made appointments at psychiatric clinics more often than parents of children with cancer. They noted that this emphasizes the need for psychological support for parents of children with chronic conditions and cancer alike.
So, if you have not already thought about how diabetes affects the other children in your family or the siblings in your life, we hope that this has provided some insight into the impact diabetes can have on these members of the family. At our Friends for Life events, we have a team dedicated to promoting safe discussions for the siblings of all ages. It can be very helpful for the siblings to compare their experiences with other siblings, much like it is for us PWD.
For more information on upcoming events, check out cwd.is/community. And to Kathryn and Tim, my siblings, thanks for putting up with me as a kid – and I will forever owe you juice boxes.
- Impact of having a sibling with cancer or type 1 diabetes mellitus on psychopathology and self-conscious emotions in adolescents: a comparative study including control
PS. My Sister Has Diabetes and How That Makes Me Feel by Grace Rooney is a wonderful book just for siblings.
Written and clinically reviewed by Marissa Town, RN, BSN, CDCES