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Photography project portrays emotional impact of living with diabetes

A special effects make-up artist who has Type 1 diabetes has created a series of images portraying the emotional impact of life with the condition.

Lee Morgan, 41, from Tonypandy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was eight years old. Over the years the demands of life with the condition have had a profound impact on his mental and emotional wellbeing.

A former karate instructor, Lee set up his make-up studio, Morgan’s House of FX, last year. He wanted to use his skills to create an exhibition that would reflect emotions he and others with diabetes have experienced, and raise greater awareness of this side of life with the condition.

Lee worked with Diabetes UK Cymru volunteer Sarah Gibbs, who has Type 2 diabetes, and photographer Gwynne Harries, to create the exhibition.

Sarah and Lee drew on their experiences to design three powerful images representing depression, exhaustion and isolation.

Isolation – model, Sarah Gibbs, makeup artist, Lee Morgan, photographer, Gwynne Harries

Lee said, “Living with diabetes has had a deep psychological impact on my entire life. I have had periods of low self-esteem and lack of confidence due to a lack of understanding from others. Lack of awareness from members of the public has left me feeling isolated, embarrassed to test my blood sugars and administer insulin in front of others, and ashamed to be a Type 1 diabetic.

“I feel depression, anger and resentment that others don’t have to live a life of endless monitoring and insulin injecting. I’ve had times when I felt very low and lonely, and that nobody understands. That’s why I wanted to create these images, to start a conversation about how diabetes affects mental health and help people understand what we have to deal with, day in, day out.”

Sarah, 45, from Newport, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2014. She also feels that the psychological impact of the condition needs more recognition.

Sarah said, “When you are diagnosed with a lifelong condition like Type 2 diabetes you feel panic at how you are going to cope, worry that you have put your nearest and dearest at risk of developing it and under pressure, not understanding how to manage it.

“I wanted to represent exhaustion within the exhibition as the most difficult thing for me is the repetitiveness. The numerous daily finger pricks, testing bloods, injecting insulin; it’s enough to wear anyone down. Some days I really hate it. It hurts and singles me out as different. It makes me feel ashamed and angry when others don’t understand.”

The exhibition was unveiled at an event hosted by Diabetes UK Cymru at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay on Wednesday 22 May. Recent research from the charity, published in the report “Too often missing: Making emotional and psychological support routine in diabetes care”, shows that diabetes is much more than a physical condition.

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Management of physical symptoms 24/7 – for instance by checking blood glucose levels, or managing diet – alongside the continual need to make decisions, and take actions, in order to reduce the likelihood of short and long-term complications, can affect every aspect of day-to-day life.

The research revealed that the relentless nature of diabetes can affect people’s emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing and health − from day-to-day frustration and low mood, to specific psychological and mental health difficulties such as clinical depression and anxiety.

Lee continued, “I hope these images show others how much of an effect diabetes can have mentally. Including support from mental health professionals within clinical diabetes teams would be a huge help. It would encourage people like me to open up, start to process their diagnosis and discuss how they are feeling. It would hopefully stop others from experiencing some of the struggles that I have, so they don’t feel so alone.”

Sarah added, “Working on this project with Lee was amazing. It was interesting to listen and talk about the similarities of life with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and the challenges we have both dealt with. I hope people see these images and realise what people with diabetes might be going through.”

The charity is calling for the emotional and psychological demands of living with diabetes to be recognised, and for the right support to be provided to those who need it.

Josh James, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Diabetes UK Cymru, said:

 “Diabetes is far more than just a physical condition. The day-to-day demands of managing diabetes can be a constant struggle, and struggling emotionally can make it more difficult to keep on top of self-management. This can in turn increase the risk of dangerous complications such as amputations, kidney failure and stroke.

“Diabetes services that include emotional and psychological support can help people improve both their physical and mental health, reduce pressure on services, and save money. We hope that these powerful images start an important and overdue discussion about the need to bridge the divide between physical and mental health services for people with diabetes, so that all diabetes care sees and support the whole person.”

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