AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To explore the resources that patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes drew upon to manage the disease in their daily lives. BACKGROUND: Type 2 diabetes is a disease affecting Australian adults at a rate described as an 'epidemic'. Treatment usually focuses on patient self-management, which may require daily blood sugar monitoring, oral medications or injectable therapies, and regulating diet and exercise. Health research studies of patient self-management, including those involving type 2 diabetes, have focused largely on individual-centred definitions, though a number of studies, in particular qualitative studies, have indicated the positive role of social relationships and informal social networks. DESIGN: Exploratory, qualitative. METHODS: The project focused on 26 patients attending a diabetes centre for clinical consultations with centre staff including doctors, diabetes educators, podiatrists and dietitians. The consultations were observed and audio recorded, followed by semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews with the patients and separate interviews with the consulting professional staff. RESULTS: Overwhelmingly the patients drew on informal social networks of support to manage the disease. Spouses were significant, sometimes presenting with the patient as a 'team' approach to managing the disease. Sons and daughters also played a significant support role, especially interpreting during consultations and explaining health information. In some cases neighbours and also local community organisations provided informal support. Only two patients claimed not to use informal social support. CONCLUSIONS: Informal social support in patients' self-management of type 2 diabetes was found to be an important factor to be considered by clinicians. The study suggested the need for a more deliberate or pro-active policy to involve patients' family and other informal social networks in treatment programs. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Clinicians may need document and incorporate informal social support in the development and implementation of patient management plans.