Founder of Diabetes Counselling Online and Recycled Interiors
UniSA alumna Helen Edwards is a multi award winning source of inspiration. She founded an acclaimed diabetes counselling service, has published a children’s book, runs an online homewares store, is completing her PhD, and was a South Australian finalist in the 2015 Telstra Business Women’s Awards and a state finalist in the 2016 Australian of the Year Awards.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, she became aware of a lack of understanding of the condition and wanted to create her own counselling services to connect and support patients. In 2001 Helen founded Diabetes Counselling Online, which has helped thousands of people living with diabetes and their families worldwide.
Helen completed a Bachelor of Social Work with Honours in 1989. After 12 years working in the challenging yet rewarding area of welfare and child protection, Helen decided to pursue a different path very close to her personal life.
“To me social work is the holistic career when it comes to the helping professions because we address mental health and wellbeing alongside societal and political issues,” Helen says.
“I’d reached a point where I wanted help for myself and was unable to find it. At the time I started the counselling services, I basically quit my job and set off to create an online community which was, at that time, pioneering. Nobody was really using technology to support communities and online counselling was rare in Australia.”
But while her idea was much needed in the diabetes community, Helen struggled breaking into the field and faced multiple barriers and the advice that ‘people with diabetes should not work in diabetes as they carry too much baggage’.
Refusing to give up, Helen worked for two years to challenge the system and create a world where people with diabetes had a voice and better quality of life. Shortly after founding Diabetes Counselling Online, Helen studied as a diabetes educator to increase her credibility and knowledge in the field, and 15 years later the organisation is a continuing success.
“We’ve won multiple awards and helped thousands and thousands of people with diabetes and their families across the world to live healthier, happier lives. This hasn’t been an easy road, but I’m proud to use my personal journey to make a statement, because really, what is wrong with baggage?”
In 2014, Helen published a children’s picture book, Diabetes Can’t Stop Me, to help inform and encourage families to discuss diabetes with their children and to lessen the stigma.
“Families with young children with type 1 diabetes constantly live with the threat of high and low blood glucose, as well as terrible complications such as blindness, kidney disease, stroke, and nerve damage. There are double the rates of depression and greatly reduced wellbeing.
“The book aims to help children feel less alone, more empowered, and to make daily diabetes tasks easier. The soft toys which come with the book have spots on their tummies so they can take their injections along with their owner.”
In 2013, with a love of vintage and the stories that lie behind old stuff, Helen started blog and online homewares store Recycled Interiors, to help people create unique, beautiful and sustainable homes that care for the planet. The blog has won multiple awards and was a finalist in the 2014 Bupa Blog Awards.
Helen was a South Australian finalist in the 2015 Telstra Business Women’s Awards and a state finalist in the 2016 Australian of the Year Awards.
In 2016 she will complete her PhD, through which she explores the personal and prominent area of pregnancy and motherhood among women with type 1 diabetes.
“I’ve continually come across a lack of understanding and services to support women during this critical time in their lives. After talking with many women with diabetes about their fears and anxieties and the ultimate joy of becoming a mother - I was drawn to a PhD topic both dear to my heart and under-researched,” Helen says.
“Given I was told at the age of 12 that I’d probably never have children, I have a unique position as an insider. I’m now in fact the mother of three healthy strapping boys!”
Helen has advice for recent Social Work graduates, telling them not to be afraid to try different, unexplored paths of work.
“Never think you can’t use your personal experiences in your work; engage with your clients as human beings and with a genuine desire to help and there will be better outcomes for everyone.”