To Tell or Not to Tell, That is the Question

So, who knows you have diabetes? Whom do you tell that you take medicine or monitor your blood glucose levels? How do you tell someone that you are dealing with a chronic medical condition that might have acute issues? What are you afraid they might do or think?


These are just a few of the questions that you are likely to consider when living with diabetes. These questions come up at work, in relationships, in friendships, and even in families, and most of the time there is no right answer. There is only the answer that is right for you and this comes only after great thought.

You might be someone who says “This is no big deal, just tell everyone.” While this may indicate that you have self-confidence and don’t care what others think of you, this approach may also leave you open to misunderstanding, judgment, and “special” treatment from others who don’t really understand diabetes. On the other hand, you may be someone who refuses to tell anyone, never wanting to be vulnerable to others’ misconceptions and judgments. But this self-reliance can leave you in a position of always having to be on guard lest someone find out about your condition.

In the case of a workplace environment, being dishonest about diabetes could be grounds for termination. However, the fear of experiencing discrimination based on having diabetes is very real, as some people have lost their jobs and others have been placed in lower-paying positions because of bias about diabetes. The other unspoken reality relates to the private judgments supervisors may have about diabetes. This can ultimately affect promotions, raises, and projects people are assigned.

The other side of this issue is the need for health, safety, and support in the workplace. There is little question that caring for your diabetes requires attention to food, medicine, and blood glucose monitoring. This attention is necessary at work as well, so unless you are going to skulk around in a secretive fashion, someone needs to know about what you are doing. And if you take medicines that put you at risk for hypoglycemia, it is critical that someone else understand the basics of diabetes so they can provide you with assistance if needed.

The statistical truth about diabetes for employers is not pretty. Among people with diabetes there is a higher rate of absenteeism and a greater risk for depression, which is a leading cause of sick days. While these are statistical facts, people who have diabetes have the same work capabilities as people who don’t and may even feel a little extra pressure to perform well because of their diabetes. They also have some legal protections under federal law.

Another area in which I’ve seen people who have diabetes struggle with the question of “To Tell or Not to Tell?” is early in relationships. Not knowing what others think about diabetes, how they are likely to respond, or if they will treat you differently can put you in a real bind. You will never know what will happen unless you tell, but once you’ve told, it’s too late to take it back.

So, what do you do? Do you have a policy for how to open this issue up? What is the determining factor for you—your comfort, your mood, your blood glucose level?

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  • J. Coder

    Upon receiving the news that I was diabetic, I was 55 years old. At first, I felt like I was the only person in my “world” to ever go through this. I advised my family, friends and co-workers and was extremely glad I did because after making some changes in my diet, one of the medications that I was taking caused my blood sugar to drop dramatically. A couple of co-workers recognized this, as they live with diabetes also. They knew what to do immediately. I keep a little tube of cake icing in my drawer at work and in my purse so that if this happens again, I’ll be ready. Everyone – family, friends, co-workers have all been extremely supportive. You can “live with diabetes” or have health problems and possibly end your life much earlier than necessary. I’m 56 now and enjoying every minute of it.

  • dsimmond

    My frequent bathroom trips were starting to worry me and I was heading back from lunch and was planning on calling the doctor to see what was going on with it. I tested around 500 from a friends kit and told the receptionist for my DR that number. She put me on hold and told me to go to the ER. I thought nothing of it and when we got to the ER. I was the first taken back. At that point I knew something was going on. After a few hours in the ER and getting home I had the weekend to think about what to do at work. The “big” boss found me…my timecard was wrong and she asked how I was feeling. She knew and was really nice about it. A few people asked what was going on and I started telling them the story. One lady said that she heard something about me and she told me her father was Type 2. My close friends was complaining on how bad their weekend was and when they asked me I told them I got diabetes and their weekend seemed much better. I don’t advertise but if they ask ..I tell.

  • Ephrenia

    I’m one of those “tell everybody” types. I don’t feel it has anything to do with my self-confidence. I don’t feel self-confisent much at all sometimes. Just that I see nothing to hide or be ashamed about. I’m proud that I’m managing my illness and make sure to include that comment when I talk about it. I find that many people will ask questions they’ve been curious about but afraid to ask others.

    I will say that I’ve not had to deal with this in the workplace, so that might change my outlook if I did. I was already on disability because of arthritis, COPD and depression when I was diagnosed with diabetes.Diabetes is one of the easiest to control (I do eat right most of the time, exercise and take insulin), but its the one that scares me the most.

  • bobo

    I was diagnosed about eight years ago and my initial reaction was to tell as few people as possible. As time has passed I have come to realize that diabetes is a silent disease not just for the slow insidious way it works but more so for the way people choose not to openly discuss the disease. Misinformation, myth and folklore are the children of this silence and only some of the hurdles one must navigate to learn to live with diabetes.
    I believe that it is imperative that parents openly discuss any presence of diabetes in the family health history and that on a broader social theme the general public needs to become more educated as to its causes,its treatment. In regards to the work environment one must approach the dissemination of ones medical information as highly personal and make decisions accordingly. Your comfort level in these discussions will be your barometer. Your health and safety as well as your co-workers is paramount. Share, teach, learn…….live well

  • anne

    I tell people if it comes up; for example, if I need to test my BG or they notice my pump etc. I don’t go out of my way to tell people, but I don’t hide it. If I don’t make a big deal about it, but treat it in a matter-of-fact sort of way, most people around me are comfortable with it. A lot of people have questions and I do my best to inform.
    When it comes to personal relationships, I usually bring it up early on. If someone can’t deal with it, there’s no use in pursuing the relationship. I do think that some people will chose not to date those with diabetes, though, and I have experienced this. (I’m a type 1, been diabetic since age 14.)