National Diabetes Week started on July 13 this year. Each annual campaign focuses on a different aspect of living with diabetes and aims to raise awareness of the serious physical and mental health effects that sufferers face.
Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to control levels of the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. If left unmanaged, this can lead to levels of sugar in the blood that are too low or too high, which can have serious health consequences.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood, and type 1 diabetics need to take insulin daily for the rest of their lives. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any time, and may be manageable through diet and lifestyle. Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, and it’s the fastest growing chronic condition in the country.
Diabetes tends to be thought of as a purely physical condition, but being diagnosed with diabetes can also impact your mental health in a devastating way.
Up to half of all people with diabetes are thought to suffer from a mental illness such as depression and anxiety, and these conditions can increase the risk of complications and result in worse health outcomes.
If you’ve been living with diabetes for a while, or have been recently diagnosed, it’s important to stay aware of these mental health challenges. Diet, exercise, and blood glucose monitoring are all essential parts of a treatment plan, but looking after your mental health is just as important.
Diabetes and Depression
There’s a clear correlation between having diabetes and suffering from depression. Some studies have concluded that having diabetes doubles your risk of developing depression. But why exactly is this?
Like any other chronic medical condition, having diabetes adds strain and pressure to your life that can be damaging to your mental health.
The constant need to follow a strict diet, check blood glucose levels, and take insulin can take its toll. There’s no opportunity to take a break, and at times, it may feel impossible to continue.
Being diagnosed with diabetes can be a huge shock, and most people will experience a range of emotions from denial and fear to frustration and anger. Grief is also a common feeling, as sufferers mourn their previous health and way of life. Going through these emotions is a part of dealing with the diagnosis of a chronic condition, but in some cases, it can trigger serious depression, or even suicidal thoughts.
Living in the constant shadow of the condition and worrying about what the future holds can also be very distressing for people living with diabetes. People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are up to 4 times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, 3 times more likely to suffer kidney failure, and 15 times more likely to need amputation at some point in their lives.
Facing alarming statistics such as these, it’s no wonder that diabetes sufferers can feel stressed and low at times. However, if the odd bad day turns into a more constant feeling of being depressed or anxious, this is a clear sign to seek further help and support.
Why Poor Mental Health Can Make Diabetes Worse
When you’re depressed, it can be difficult to muster up the energy to complete even the most mundane everyday tasks. This means that people who have diabetes and also suffer from depression may start to neglect their vital daily care routine. This may include:
- Forgetting or neglecting to take blood glucose levels
- Forgetting or neglecting to take insulin
- Not eating enough, overeating, or eating unhealthy foods
- Abandoning regular exercise.
For a person who isn’t suffering from diabetes, eating badly for a few months will probably not impact their health significantly in the long-term. However, if you have diabetes, failing to keep your blood sugar levels within the target range could very quickly lead to serious and life-threatening conditions such as hypoglycaemia or ketoacidosis.
What’s more, studies have shown that diabetics suffering from stress or depression tend to have elevated blood glucose levels, even if they’re taking medication regularly and eating a healthy diet.
In the longer term, not managing diabetes well can increase the chance of complications such as kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, foot ulcers, vision problems and more.
These worsening health problems can cause even more mental strain, and so the cycle continues.
Signs You May Be Suffering from Depression
It’s not always obvious when someone is suffering from depression, especially when that person is you. Many people think that suffering from depression means you have to be unable to get out of bed or suicidal, but these debilitating forms of depression account for only a small proportion overall.
Look out for these warning signs of depression and seek further help if there has been no improvement in a few weeks:
- Constant low mood or feeling down
- Persistent feelings of worry or guilt
- Not interested in hobbies and activities
- Not wanting to leave the house
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Difficulties concentrating at school or work
- Drinking alcohol excessively or taking drugs
- Feeling tired all the time
- Losing interest in sex
- Problems sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Poor appetite and weight loss, or overeating and weight gain.
How to Take Care of Yourself Mentally
If you think you may be suffering from depression or anxiety, it’s important to take action. Mental health problems can be treated, but in most cases, they won’t go away on their own.
Talking to your doctor should be your first step. It’s important to make sure that your diabetes management program and your depression treatment program are coordinated, and your doctor is best placed to suggest the treatments that will work best for your individual situation.
As well as seeking medical help, reach out to friends and family and let them know how you’re feeling. Help and support from those close to you is essential for overcoming mental health problems.
It’s helpful for diabetics to keep a food and medication log. If you don’t already do this, it’s a good idea to start, and also use your log tokeep track of your mood and the levels of stress you’re feeling. Keep track of your physical activity too – many people find that exercise can help to reduce stress and lift their mood.
Relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, or even having a hot bath or reading a book can help to reduce stress levels so you are better able to cope with your condition. Made sure to take some time out each day to breath slowly and relax. Physical exercise can also be very helpful to aid relaxation.
Depression counselling can be effective for many people. In counselling, you talk through your thoughts and feelings with a trained professional, and work together to develop coping strategies and more positive ways of thinking.
Medicare may cover psychologist fees if you suffer from a chronic condition such as diabetes, and you are referred by your doctor – another reason why it’s important to seek medical help if you are concerned that your mental health is suffering.
To find out more about how counselling could help you to deal with depression and manage the mental health impact that comes with chronic conditions such as diabetes, give the friendly team at Psychological Health Care a call. Our Dianella office is open to patients across Perth, and we’re experienced at helping those with diabetes and other chronic conditions. Get in touch today to make an appointment.