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The aim of this study was to gain greater insight into the experience of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during adolescence, and the factors that influence how a young person makes sense of the condition over time.Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was employed in an attempt to convey an understanding of what it feels like to be diagnosed with diabetes during adolescence and to highlight implications for health care professionals. The perspectives of eight adults, aged 28–36 years who were diagnosed with diabetes during adolescence, were gathered using an unstructured interview and were analysed using IPA.The results showed that chronic illness impacts on the sense of self and can be especially devastating for an adolescent trying to cope with the conflicting nature of adolescence and the demanding, restrictive nature of diabetes. In some young people this can lead to risky self-care behaviours. However, through active encouragement and support from significant others, young people are able to develop an integrated sense of self, which is more suited to living with a chronic condition. These findings suggest that the relationships between illness beliefs and psychological adjustment lie in the family and social context.It was concluded that health care professionals need to support the young person by having a better understanding of the impact of diabetes on adolescent development and by tailoring their approach to these young people. Psychology teams can be approached to provide consultation and training for diabetes teams to assist in the setting up of developmentally appropriate transition services for young people. A list of training and educational resources for health care professionals and young people is provided. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons.