A diabetes diagnosis can be a life altering event. As you establish a new routine it is important to establish good habits in managing your mental health. Proper diabetes management requires awareness of your symptoms. Just as you take insulin to ensure your blood glucose levels are where they should be, it’s important to take measures to prevent mental health crises by being aware of how you are feeling mentally and emotionally.
How Are Diabetes and Mental Health Connected?
A diabetes diagnosis can feel like not just a threat to health, it can also seem like a threat to a person’s way of life, because managing diabetes means making changes to your day-to-day routine. Added responsibilities like tracking blood glucose and insulin can be hard to remember at first, doctors’ appointments can cause time away from work, and the costs of appropriate care may be burdensome. These changes can be emotionally draining, and you might start to notice that you are feeling a bit off or have very little energy left to carry out important tasks to manage your condition.
Consider these impacts:
- People living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
- Rates of depression across the lifespan are 2 times greater for people with diabetes than in the general population.
- People with type 1 diabetes are twice as likely to live with disordered eating.
- In women with type 1 diabetes, bulimia is the most common eating disorder while women with type 2 diabetes are more likely to deal with binge eating.
- The fear of blood sugar fluctuations can be very stressful. Changes in blood sugar can cause rapid changes in mood and other mental symptoms such as fatigue, trouble thinking clearly, and anxiety.
Having diabetes can cause a condition called diabetes distresswhich shares some traits of stress, depression, and anxiety. Unlike depression, diabetes distress can be linked back to causal factors related to diabetes. Diabetes distress can also be affected by external factors like family and societal support and health care services. While diabetes distress cannot typically be treated with medication, experts say that improving diabetes management to reduce stress, talk therapy, and support groups can be helpful.
The fear of blood sugar fluctuations can be very stressful. Changes in blood sugar can cause rapid changes in mood and other mental symptoms such as fatigue, trouble thinking clearly, and anxiety. Mental Health America offers online screening tools.
Treatment and Therapies
Mental health conditions are treatable, and having with diabetes at the same time doesn’t make either one less treatable, they just require different treatments. Ask your diabetes care team about a referral to a mental health care provider like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. Together, your doctors can help you find a treatment plan that works for your mind and body to be as healthy as possible.
Therapy is an extremely helpful treatment option and people with and without mental health conditions can benefit from it. Professionals can help you work through the many things that may be causing you stress, understand your mental health condition and identify triggers that may make things worse and learn coping skills. Common types of therapy include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has two main aspects. The cognitive part works to develop helpful beliefs about your life. The behavioral side helps you learn to take healthier actions. CBT often works well for depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, but it can also be used for other various conditions.
- Family therapy helps family members communicate, handle conflicts and solve problems better. Forms of family therapy often are used for treating eating disorders and bipolar disorder.
- Dialectical- behavioral therapy (DBT) focuses on teaching skills in four key areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
In addition to therapy, there are a number of different medications that can help. When deciding on a mental health treatment plan involving medication, talk to your mental health care provider about your family history of mental health and your own diabetic condition.
Some evidence suggests that antidepressants like Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help control blood sugar for people who already have type 2 diabetes. In fact, one study found that taking antidepressants is linked to 95 percent higher odds that a person with diabetes’ blood pressure will be controlled. Other research suggests that taking tricyclics and SSRIs may increase your chances of developing diabetes due to side effects of weight gain.
A diabetes diagnosis can cause prolonged stress which may possibly cause a rise in blood sugar. Experts suggest looking for patterns; be aware of your stress level each time you log your blood sugar and see if a pattern emerges. If you notice a pattern, you can learn to spot your stress warning signs and take action to prevent stress and keep your blood sugar low. This may mean working with a professional to learn relaxation and coping techniques.
Just as diabetes therapy must be reviewed and adjusted frequently in order to find a long-term solution to care, finding the right mental health treatment can take time and be a process of trial and error. Like with many other chronic conditions, the sooner you get help, the better.