Missed Connections : Diabetes and Mental Health
artwork by Jenna Cantamessa
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how your body processes glucose (sugar) from the food you eat. If you have diabetes or know someone who does, you know that it requires constant attention and management. But did you know that diabetes can also affect your mental health? The link between diabetes and mental health is often overlooked, and many people with diabetes may not even realize that they are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.
The Often Missed Connection Between Diabetes and Mental Health
Living with diabetes can cause physical complications such as hypertension, vision problems, and nerve damage. But the impact of diabetes goes beyond the physical symptoms. The emotional toll of managing a chronic illness like diabetes can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. According to the American Diabetes Association, around 10-15% of people with diabetes also experience depression. Symptoms of depression can include fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, sleeping too much, unintended weight loss or weight gain, loss of interest in usual activities, and even suicidal thoughts.
Diabetes can also lead to diabetes distress, which is a condition that occurs when the demands of managing diabetes become overwhelming. Symptoms of diabetes distress include feeling a lack of support from family members or friends, avoiding medical appointments or checking blood sugar levels, and feeling frequently angry or frustrated about the demands of managing diabetes.
Taking steps to reduce your risk of developing diabetes or managing the disease if you already have it can go a long way in helping you avoid experiencing concurrent mental health problems and illnesses. Here are a few things that you can do to help:
Maintain a healthy diet: Incorporate whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats into your diet. Choices that contain protein and fiber can help you feel full and reduce cravings. One study found that people who ate a high protein breakfast had lower blood sugar levels and reduced appetite later in the day.
Start moving: Physical activity is an important part of improving your physical and mental health. Exercise can help reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, improve cognitive function, and lower insulin resistance. If you’re currently inactive, start small with stretching, taking a daily walk, or finding ways to incorporate other types of physical activity into your life. As you add movement to your daily routine, you may find yourself feeling better, more motivated, and even excited to try new activities.
Prioritize sleep: How long and how well you sleep can affect your health in many ways, influencing inflammation and metabolism, body weight, and mood. Promote sleep quality by limiting artificial light exposure before bedtime, minimizing light in your bedroom when you are ready to go to sleep, and maintaining a cool room temperature to help you fall and remain asleep.
Find peer support: Peer support can be a great resource for understanding type 2 diabetes and how you can change or improve factors that are within your control. Peer support can help you find additional resources, learn new strategies, and feel more confident about your ability to manage diabetes. It also provides social interaction and connection, which is important to overall health. You may even discover a new exercise partner.
Self-advocate: It’s important to advocate for your health with your healthcare providers. Talk to your provider about any medications that may have weight gain as a side effect. If you are taking one of these medications, ask about ways to manage this side effect or ask about other medication options.
Seek a psychiatric consultation: If you are currently being treated for mental health conditions, a psychiatric consultation may help optimize your medication regimen to avoid unnecessary risks and complications. Many medications used to treat mental health concerns can carry a risk of weight gain and increased risk for diabetes. In addition to possibly adjusting medication regimens, a proper psychiatric evaluation can reveal underlying issues which may reveal additional treatment options which may improve the treatment outcomes.
By taking these simple steps, you can help protect your physical and mental health and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Remember, you have more control over your health than you may realize.