Diabetes takes toll on mental health

The pressure of living with diabetes takes a significant toll on mental health and the emotional wellbeing of more than half of the people diagnosed with the condition.

This National Diabetes Week (July 12 to 18), Diabetes NSW & ACT CEO Sturt Eastwood is asking the public to be aware of the extra pressure diabetes places on the 435,000 people living with the condition in NSW.

“Research tells us that 71% of people with type 1 diabetes and 58% of people with type 2 diabetes say the condition has a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing[i],” said Mr Eastwood. “We also know that women who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to experience depression during pregnancy and after delivery.[ii]

“As a result, it’s estimated that the quality of life and mental health of more than 220,000 people in NSW is affected by diabetes.”

The emotional burden of diabetes

The emotional burden of diabetes comes from the dozens of extra decisions people living with the condition need to make every day. The social and physical restrictions bought on by COVID-19 have added further stress and pressure.

Mr Eastwood, who lives with type 1 diabetes, said, “Once you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you’re constantly making decisions that impact your health. Life is much easier without diabetes.

“The burden of these decisions can weigh you down in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.

“Some of the things people living with diabetes have to think about include ‘What are my blood glucose levels? Why have they gone high? Why are they low? Are my levels ok to drive? How many carbs are in that meal? Can I eat that piece of fruit? Why does my diabetes monitor keep beeping?’ And much more.”

Mr Eastwood said looking after mental health and wellbeing is an important foundation in the overall care of people living with diabetes.

“Diabetes, whether type 1, type 2, or gestational, needs to be managed daily to reduce the risk of complications. It’s not a condition that can be ignored, because diabetes never takes a holiday.”

About diabetes and mental health

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition that attacks insulin producing cells in the pancreas. It has no known cause or cure. Once the condition develops, it requires urgent medical treatment and daily insulin for the rest of your life.

Type 2 diabetes tends to develop progressively. It can be delayed or prevented in almost 60 per cent of cases with a healthy, active lifestyle. About 377,000 people in NSW live with type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and puts both the mother and baby at increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. The latest statistics show there are 13,200 women living with gestational diabetes in NSW.

Diabetes NSW & ACT’s Psychologist Katherine Dixon said diabetes adds an extra level of stress and anxiety to the simple things many of us take for granted.

“What I regularly hear from the people I talk to is that diabetes is relentless,” Ms Dixon said.

“The pressure never goes away. Even when you’re doing all the right things for your health – eating well, exercising, taking your medication – when you have diabetes you can end up with the wrong result. It can be hard to find the right balance when your body doesn’t respond in the way you need it to.

“When you add an extra stress such as COVID-19, it can be overwhelming. This is why I’ve seen a 30% increase in appointments since the pandemic started.”

Ms Dixon suggests five simple steps to help people with diabetes thrive, not just survive:

  1. Positivity – incorporate something that makes you feel good into your day.
  2. Engagement – be fully in the moment. When we’re in the zone we stop worrying about other things.
  3. Relationships – create connections with people that help you and make you feel good.
  4. Meaning – do something that gives you a sense of purpose.
  5. Achievement – celebrate big and small achievements each day.

The impact of diabetes on the mental and emotional health of people living with the condition is real. If you or someone you care about is struggling with diabetes, please call Diabetes NSW & ACT on 1300 342 238 and ask to make an appointment with our Psychologist Katherine Dixon. All consultations are free and confidential.

[i] Diabetes MILES-2 2016 Survey Report which examined the psychological, social and behavioural aspects of diabetes.

[ii] A Meta-Analysis of Gestational Diabetes and Risk for Perinatal Depression, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Diabetic Medicine, Dec 27 2019.

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