Posted on Tuesday 13 June 2017
Taking charge of your health can be a daunting prospect at any age but particularly when you are a teenager.
But thanks to Guy's and St Thomas' Youth Empowerment Skills (YES) programme, youngsters aged between 14 and 19 are getting the support they need to explore what it means to be a young person with Type 1 diabetes, and, how to stay healthy.
The teenagers attend a three-day workshop during the summer holidays where they are supported by staff from Guy’s and St Thomas’ and a youth worker from the Well Centre, a youth health centre in Streatham where young people can see a youth worker, counsellor or doctor to discuss health concerns.
They get general health advice, touching on topics like drugs, alcohol and sexual health, how to look after themselves and avoid diabetes emergencies.
The young people also get to try out new skills like driving and rock climbing, and go on social outings. This builds confidence and helps them meet other young people with Type 1 diabetes so they develop a peer support network.
This programme has resulted in a dramatic improvement in young people's attendance at the regular monthly clinic run by the Diabetes and Endocrinology Service at St Thomas’ Hospital.
In 2012, just 60% of teenage patients attended at least 60% of their appointments at the clinic. Since the introduction of the YES programme this figure has risen to 77% of young patients in 2016.
The young patients have also seen significant improvements in their blood sugar levels and this improvement has been sustained over a period of 12 months.
Chris Yabro , 21, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in October 2012. He says: "It was half-term and I remember feeling like I had flu. When I started to lose weight my brother took me to A&E. They took me straight in and put me on a saline drip. When they told me I was Type 1 diabetic I couldn't take it in. It wasn't until a month later I realised that I'd have to live with this for the rest of my life.
"What's great about the YES programme is you get to know other people who are going through the same thing as you. You're not alone. I wish I'd had someone like that to talk to when I was 16.
"We go out together, watch movies and catch up through our Facebook group and meet at the monthly clinic at St Thomas'.
"It motivates me to take care of myself. Now I understand why it's important to count carbohydrates, check blood sugar and take insulin."
Dr Dulmini Kariyawasam, a consultant in diabetes and endocrinology at Guy's and St Thomas' who leads the YES programme, says: "When you are a teenager, you are very conscious of being different from your peers. The programme gives them confidence to deal with school, family and relationships as a young adult with Type 1 diabetes."
Siobhan Pender, a diabetes specialist nurse, says “The YES programme is not about giving lots of facts but teaching young people how to relate to others.
"Sometimes they feel like they've failed if they haven't taken their insulin but, with the support of the group, they will meet others who've done exactly the same. The programme gives them a group of friends who are different but similar.”
You can find out more about YES and how to get involved here.