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Kayleigh’s story: Speaking out to help other younger people with type 2 diabetes

Kayleigh Steel


“I want other younger people to get info on type 2 diabetes at the right time, and actual practical support and advice.”

Kayleigh was diagnosed with prediabetes at 19, then type 2 diabetes aged 23. She has struggled with her mental health, but is now speaking out about her experiences to help other young people learn about type 2 diabetes and to break the stigma surrounding diagnoses in younger people. 


Diagnosed with prediabetes

When I was aged 19 my doctor informed me that I had prediabetes. I went on to lose four stone, and my doctor later told me that my blood sugar levels had returned to a healthy range. But my life changed when I moved to Bournemouth for university. I was working night shifts which altered my routine, and I was struggling with my mental health which led me to being signed off work. 

Soon afterwards my blood sugar levels returned to the prediabetic range. It was around this time that I moved GP surgeries too, which was hard because I felt like I was receiving mixed messages from doctors on the best ways to manage my health.  

I moved home once I’d finished university and I had a few life situations that were a detriment to my mental health. I was putting on weight through secret over-eating and feeling very low, while working shifts, and it felt like a constant juggle with so much going on.

Diagnosed with type 2

I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes the day before my 23rd birthday. I had asked for a vitamin D tested, although I hadn’t known at the time that I was being tested for type 2, but because of my medical history my healthcare team tested my HbA1c and then informed me.  

I would’ve appreciated more of a conversation about having this test for type 2 diabetes, and to this day, I’ve never seen or spoken to a GP about my diabetes. I did speak to a nurse, and her suggestion for managing type 2 diabetes was simply “watch what you eat”. 

My medical team has records from when I was 14 when I first started struggling with mental health - and first being prescribed anti-depressants at 16 - but they didn’t join the dots or give me the mental health support I really needed to help me with adjusting to life with type 2 diabetes.  

Life with diabetes

Stigma and misconceptions

In early 2020 I was offered a place on DESMOND, a diabetes education course, but then we went into lockdown. There was an online option for DESMOND, but I didn’t feel like that was what I needed at the time.  

One year later, I returned to my nurse for a check-up, who told me, “You’re very young to have type 2 diabetes.” And that’s pretty much what every healthcare provider has told me. I’ve had other people assume that I have type 1 diabetes because of my age, and I’ve been asked, “Did you eat a lot of chocolate?” when I’ve felt the courage to share my diagnosis.  

When I had prediabetes, I was aware that my nan had it, but I too bought into the misconception that it was an older person’s condition. I have since learned that four generations of my family had received diagnoses of type 2 diabetes.  



I’ve mostly self-managed living with type 2 diabetes. I was told I would not be given a free blood glucose monitor and NHS prescription for test strips, so bought one. However, I can’t afford to use strips that often, so I ran out quickly in the early days of using it.  

I’m on the smallest dose of metformin, I’ve tried different types of antidepressants and have tried different types of therapy, including CBT and talking therapies.  

After all of this self-management and through the information I had gathered from the Diabetes UK website, I decided to ask my healthcare team for help to attempt the Newcastle Diet but it wasn’t offered in my area and I wasn’t given access to a dietitian for support. I tried the diet on my own and it worked for a couple of months until my mental health once again took a downwards turn and I continued with my previous unhealthy eating habits.  

Eventually, at my annual diabetes check up in January this year, I had a breakdown about my weight and my struggles with binge eating. I was referred to a social prescriber, who offered me vouchers to Slimming World, which although helps with the weight loss doesn’t help with my bad relationship with food. I also discussed another course of CBT therapy but with working full-time, studying for a masters, planning a wedding and just generally living, the local mental health team didn’t feel like I had the time to commit to therapy at this stage.  

Diabetes UK and me

Speaking out

I don’t like talking about myself, and it’s only in the past year that I’ve been more open. I’ve now started talking to my family about diabetes and mental health, and I volunteer with Diabetes UK – I don’t want other younger people with type 2 diabetes to feel like they can’t talk about it.  

In April 2023 I went to Parliament to talk about my mental health experiences, and I appeared on ‘Diabetes Discussions – a Diabetes UK Podcast’ as a guest on Episode 4: Mental Wellbeing. I feel passionately that young people with type 2 need greater mental health support, and that we need to break the stigma that exists around age and type 2.  

I think if I’d have got help with my mental health at 19, it would’ve positively impacted my eating patterns. Moreover, I likely would’ve exercised more, and I probably wouldn’t have got into so much debt at uni. 

I want other younger people to get info on type 2 diabetes at the right time, and actual practical support and advice. 

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