Diabetes & Mental Health

By: Matthew J. Jaime, RD

This article is part of a series by Matthew J. Jaime, RD about the ways diabetes affects someone’s life. You can read more and learn how you can best support patients with diabetes here.

As of July 9th, 2020, I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for 2,984 days

I’ve lost 1,701 hours of sleep, I’ve pricked myself 16,444 times, and I’ve changed my insulin pump site (the cannula that is inserted into my body) 964 times.*

That’s A LOT of needle sticks. It really puts into perspective what a diabetic means when they say they feel like a human pincushion

“Research shows a diabetic must make at minimum, 180 extra health-related decisions per day.”

That’s a lot of thinking, a lot of poking, and the added pressure definitely takes a toll on the mental health of the diabetic. Not to mention, there are many days where diabetes simply does not want to work with you. 

It’s those days that feel like the ultimate failure; when you are counting your carbs down to the exact number, fitting your physical activity in for the day, dosing your insulin appropriately, (even giving yourself an extra dose), and the blood sugar readings still do not match. 

It’s exhausting, but it’s diabetes. 

Diabetes, Distress & Depression

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetics are 2-3 times more likely to develop depression. For those who do, only 25-50% seek treatment. Additionally, the CDC brings to light, what is called, “diabetes distress” and reports in an 18-month period, 33-50% of diabetics can experience it. 

Diabetes distress is similar to depression in its association with sad, empty feelings, anxiety, excessive sleepiness, anxiousness, irritability, guilt, and trouble concentrating. It’s different from depression in that traditional medications for depression are ineffective in alleviating its symptoms. 

How To Cope & Set Goals

Professional Help

Approaches to managing diabetes distress include:

  • Referral to a mental health counselor with a specialty in chronic conditions 
  • One-on-one sessions with a diabetes educator 
  • Focusing on only one to two diabetes-related goals. 

This numerical approach to goal setting is so the diabetic avoids feeling overwhelmed and subsequently let-down if he or she is unable to achieve their long list of goals. 

Importance of Community

Connecting with other diabetics online and in-person is another way I find peace. There exists a wonderful community of diabetics in the social-media world and sometimes just talking to someone who is also experiencing a similar reality to your own can be a huge help. 

Some of my favorites are:

@balanceandbolus

@beyondtype1

@type1_belle

@kindnessdesignsandoils

@nerdabetic

Self-Care

Find what gets you out of that dark mental cloud when diabetes seems to control you, rather than you controlling diabetes. 

Connecting with nature is something many of us enjoy–and I am no different. I love getting out into nature because as Henry David Thoreau said, “I take a walk in the woods and come out taller than the trees”. 

This is one way I climb out of those harder days with diabetes. I find so much peace in filling my house, my bedroom, my yard with so many beautiful plants while tending to them reminds me of how much life surrounds me. 

They remind me that I may be full of sugar, but I too am full of life. Even on the days diabetes overwhelms me, life is still shining brightly within me. For that, I am lucky. 

So whatever brings you peace, whatever brings you light, hold onto it and hold onto it tight, because that is what is going to get you through the highs and lows of the diabetic life

References: 

With Type 1 Diabetes, the Numbers Add Up. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Web site. Available at: https://www.jdrf.org/community/take-action/imthetype/. Published 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020. 

Digitale E. New Research Shows How to Keep Diabetics Safer During Sleep. Stanford Medicine Web site. Available at: https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2014/05/08/new-research-keeps-diabetics-safer-during-sleep/. Published May 8, 2014. Accessed July 9, 2020. 

Diabetes and Mental Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/mental-health.html. Published August 6, 2018. Accessed July 9, 2020. 

Kreider KE. Diabetes Distress or Major Depressive Disorder? A Practical Approach to Diagnosing and Treating Psychological Comorbidities of Diabetes. Diabetes Ther. 2017;8(1):1-7. doi:10.1007/s13300-017-0231-1