Diabetes and Mental Health

If mental health is low on your priority list for managing diabetes, think again!

Mental health affects so many aspects of daily life—how you think and feel, handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Having a mental health problem could make it harder to stick to a diabetes care plan.

The Mind-Body Connection

Thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can affect how healthy the body is. Untreated mental health issues can make diabetes worse, and problems with diabetes can make mental health issues worse. Fortunately if one gets better, the other tends to get better, too.

Depression: More Than Just a Bad Mood

Depression is a medical illness that causes feelings of sadness and often a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. It can get in the way of how you function at work and home, including taking care of your diabetes. When you aren’t able to manage your diabetes well, the risk goes up for diabetes complications like heart disease and nerve damage.

Only 25 to 50 percent of people with diabetes who have depression get diagnosed and treated. But treatment—therapy, medicine, or both—can be very effective. And without treatment, depression often gets worse, not better. If you think you might have depression, get in touch with your doctor right away for help getting treatment. The earlier depression is treated, the better for you, your quality of life, and your diabetes. Peace River Center offers Outpatient Therapy by calling our Access to Care, 863.248.3311 and we also offer a free, 24-hour Crisis Line 863.519.3744.

Diabetes - Checking Blood Sugar Level

People with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress is part of life, from traffic jams to family demands to everyday diabetes care. You can feel stress as an emotion, such as fear or anger, as a physical reaction like sweating or a racing heart, or both.

If you’re stressed, you may not take as good care of yourself as usual. Your blood sugar levels can be affected too—stress hormones make blood sugar rise or fall unpredictably, and stress from being sick or injured can make your blood sugar go up. Being stressed for a long time can lead to other health problems or make them worse.

Anxiety—feelings of worry, fear, or being on edge—is how your mind and body react to stress. People with diabetes are 20 percent more likely than those without diabetes to have anxiety at some point in their life. Managing a long-term condition like diabetes can be a major source of anxiety for some.

young woman checking blood sugar - diabetes article
In any 18-month period, 33 to 50 percent of people with diabetes have diabetes distress.

Studies show therapy for anxiety usually works better than medicine, but sometimes both together works best. You can also help lower your stress and anxiety by:

  • Getting active: even a quick walk can be calming, and the effect can last for hours.
  • Doing some relaxation exercises, like meditation or yoga.
  • Calling or texting a friend who understands you (not someone who is causing you stress!).
  • Grabbing some “you” time. Take a break from whatever you’re doing. Go outside, read something fun—whatever helps you recharge.
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep.

Anxiety can feel like low blood sugar and vice versa. It may be hard for you to recognize which it is and treat it effectively. If you’re feeling anxious, try checking your blood sugar and treat it if it’s low.

There will always be some stress in life. But if you feel overwhelmed, talking to a mental health counselor may help. Getting help for a mental health issue may also help you manage diabetes, too.

Diabetes Distress

You may sometimes feel discouraged, worried, frustrated, or tired of dealing with daily diabetes care like diabetes is controlling you instead of the other way around. Maybe you’ve been trying hard but not seeing results. Or you’ve developed a health problem related to diabetes in spite of your best efforts.
Those overwhelming feelings, known as diabetes distress, may cause you to slip into unhealthy habits, stop checking your blood sugar, even skip doctor’s appointments. It happens to many—if not most—people with diabetes, often after years of good management.

Diabetes distress can look like depression or anxiety, but it can’t be treated effectively with medication. Instead, these approaches have been shown to help:

  • Make sure you’re seeing an endocrinologist for your diabetes care. He or she is likely to have a deeper understanding of diabetes challenges than your regular doctor.
  • Call Peace River Center and ask for a therapist who specializes in chronic health conditions, 863.248.3311.
  • Get some one-on-one time with a diabetes educator so you can problem-solve together.
  • Focus on one or two small diabetes management goals instead of thinking you have to work on everything all at once.
  • Join a diabetes support group so you can share your thoughts and feelings with people who have the same concerns (and learn from them too).
Talk to Your Health Care Team

Your health care team knows diabetes is challenging, but may not understand how challenging. And you may not be used to talking about feeling sad or down. But if you’re concerned about your mental health, let your doctor know right away. You’re not alone—help is available!

Content adapted from: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/mental-health.html