Diabetes and Your Mental Health

September 29, 2023

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If you have diabetes, you know how much time and effort it can take to manage the disease. You need to keep a close eye on your blood sugar, make healthy food choices and take your medications every day. For some people, the relentlessness of diabetes can make them feel overwhelmed, stressed or even depressed.

In fact, research has shown that about one-fifth of people who have type 2 diabetes also experience depression. And up to one-third experience diabetes distress, a term that describes the overwhelming feelings that often accompany a diabetes diagnosis.

Diabetes requires lifelong self-management, and it’s natural to feel upset and frustrated by that fact. But conditions like depression and diabetes distress can lead to poor diabetes management. Long-term, these feelings of distress can contribute to a vicious cycle where you feel burned out by taking care of yourself, which makes it even harder to take care of yourself.

If you have diabetes and struggle with stress or depression, speak with your healthcare provider. Managing your mental health is just as important as managing your diabetes—and it could even help you manage the condition more effectively.

How do I know if I have depression?

More and more healthcare providers are adopting protocols to screen for depression in patients with diabetes. A depression screening typically involves a series of questions about your mental and emotional wellbeing. Standard mental health screenings may ask you about your moods, thoughts, relationships and sleep quality.

Diabetes mental health screenings usually go a step further to ask you specific questions about diabetes management. For example, you may answer questions about what kind of social support you have to help manage your diabetes. Your provider may also ask you about how easy it is for you to get to your appointments or pay for your medications. Any factors that make it more difficult for you to manage your diabetes can increase your risk of depression or diabetes distress.

Who’s at higher risk?

Mental health challenges can affect anyone, but some people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing depression or distress than others. Some of the risk factors for developing depression associated with diabetes include:

  • Being female
  • Being in your 30s, 40s or 50s
  • Having severe or complicated diabetes

Researchers note that there’s somewhat of a “chicken or egg” scenario when it comes to complicated or severe illness and diabetes distress. Diabetes distress can lead to poor diabetes management, which could lead to complications. But on the other hand, having very severe illness can cause a person to feel depressed or distressed. Essentially, experts don’t know for sure whether complex illness or mental health issues arise first. It could also work differently for different people. Either way, it’s important to manage both your diabetes and your mental health well.

What can I do to manage diabetes distress?

If you have diabetes, it may feel like all your time is taken up with managing the condition. But it’s important to take steps to also care for your mental health. To improve your emotional and mental wellbeing, you can:

  • Allow your loved ones to help you when needed, and let your family know when you’re feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy, such as gardening, doing puzzles or spending time with your family.
  • Tell your provider or pharmacist if you have trouble paying for medications or traveling to your medical appointments.
  • Speak with your provider about your concerns or frustrations. They may help you problem-solve or refer you to other healthcare providers who can offer targeted mental health support and treatment. There are various methods of mental health support, including in-person, group and virtual care.

If you need help managing your diabetes or your mental health, speak with your healthcare provider on the best options that fit your lifestyle. Find a provider near you.