nursing schoolWhile the stress of combating diabetes is undeniable, there are ways to understand how to manage it. Yet when diabetes occurs within cultures that maintain traditional values, managing that stress becomes an even greater challenge.

In a study that hits close to home, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (JHUSON) researchers—postdoctoral fellow Hyunjeong Park, PhD, RN, ANP, aided by JHUSON faculty Jennifer Wenzel, PhD, RN, CCM—reported on how diabetes can affect social role strain among women in Korea.

Park’s study, “Experience of social role strain in Korean women with type 2 diabetes,” investigated married South Korean women living with diabetes and how it affects their role among family, friends and themselves. During the study, she observed three themes and noted that in a Korean household, it is commonplace for women to focus on their family when overwhelmed with multiple roles, while men tend to gear their attention towards work when faced with the same situation.

The first theme revealed that, with married Korean women who take care of their families, having diabetes proved to be a burden on them in more ways than one. Through interviews, it was revealed that the women believed that stress from their previous social roles played a factor in becoming diagnosed with diabetes.

The second showed that women did not make enough time to care for themselves because of their prior obligations in managing the household and cooking for their family. “They know how to manage diabetes but they feel that they cannot do it because they have so many other things they need to do,” Park said. One major obstacle Park observed was the overall lack of acceptance of a diabetic diet from family members. Husbands and children generally disapproved of meals suitable for a woman with diabetes because of a lack of taste, Park said. Eventually, maintaining a diabetic diet for the family over long periods of time was not perceived as feasible by women in the study.

The third theme revolved around a sense of guilt with the women. Their prevailing feeling was that if they were sick or couldn’t perform their duties at home, they felt like a liability and were holding their family back.

“Culturally, as Korean nurses, the topic resonates for both of us,” Wenzel said. “Having started out in Diabetes Care (my very first nursing position) and conducted diabetes research with groups affected by health disparities, I can really appreciate how complex diabetes self-management is and how many opportunities there are to improve patients’ experiences in living with their disease on a daily basis. This study offers an important first step.”