Are depression and diabetes related?
The simple answer: yes.
Research shows that if you have diabetes, your risk of developing depression more than doubles. In fact, some studies show, that it could be as high as four times more likely.
And while this information may seem like just one more thing to worry about, it’s important to address and discuss, because doing so has the potential of improving your quality of life. And who doesn’t want that?
Someone once said, “Diabetes is a full-time job that you didn’t apply for, you can’t quit and there’s no vacation or pay.” (We’re nodding.) Agreed—no one lined up for the diabetes merry-go-round or the diabetes loop-dee-loop, because diabetes isn’t fun. Actually, it’s a royal pain. And you never get a break.
You know the drill: count carbs, administer insulin, (factor in activity, stress and consider what’s happened before), monitor blood sugars, rest, eat or compensate.
And no matter how vigilant you are and how meticulously carbs are counted and insulin accordingly dosed, you’ll get the rogue blood glucose level (BGL), the unexpected zinger that just makes you feel like chucking that juice box or screaming or crying or crawling into a ball and giving up because sometimes you can’t be perfect—no, you aren’t perfect and this diabetes thing is hard, really hard and just when you think you got it right and you’re really hitting your stride … you’re tested, you’re thrown and have to try again then again and again. It’s no wonder the chronic condition can cause anxiety, feelings of frustration and even hopelessness. Diabetes isn’t just a physical challenge with serious implications; it’s also emotionally demanding and can be extremely difficult to navigate mentally. That’s why the most effective treatments for diabetes include medical care as well as psychological care.
Everyone at some stage of their life will experience “feeling down.” It’s important to note though, that depression is more than feeling “bummed out.” It’s a persistent feeling (lasting more than two weeks) of sadness or loss of interest, among other symptoms. It can be debilitating, life-altering and throw you down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. It also can be subtle. Perhaps you hadn’t really noticed, and it’s a loved one who’s mentioned the changes, has noted that things aren’t “okay”. Whichever way, don’t worry; take heed! You’ve made it here and you aren’t the first.
If you’re experiencing symptoms in at least three of the following categories, you may be depressed:
Things you may do …
- Stop doing things you used to enjoy
- Have trouble getting things done
- Are unable to focus
- Remain in your home for long periods of time
- Pull away from loved ones
- Use alcohol or sedatives excessively
Things you may think …
- “I’m worthless”
- “I’m not good enough”
- “I deserve to feel like this”
- “I will never be happy”
- “This is my fault”
- “Life is not worth living”
Things you may feel …
Things you may experience physically:
- Feeling sick and run down
- Having headaches and body pains
- Having an upset stomach
- Irritable bowels
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Extreme weight changes and appetite changes
Note: This is just a short list of symptoms you may be experiencing if you’re depressed. Consult a mental health professional for proper assessment and treatment.
Did you say, yes to all of them? Say, yes to none? Either way: keep reading.
Your mental health affects how you deal with your physical health, so if you become depressed, you’re less likely to manage your diabetes well, which can lead to complications and poor health in general. Essentially, both aspects of care are paramount and affect your well-being in tandem, so don’t neglect either today or tomorrow!
Dr. Diana Naranjo, assistant professor of psychiatry & behavioral studies and Dr. Korey Hood, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, work exclusively with diabetes patients and believe that in terms of having optimal mental health with diabetes, depression prevention is key. If you know you are at a higher risk of developing depression or an anxiety disorder, being proactive can also improve your quality of life in the long run.
Planning ahead is all a part of self-care and can include reaching out to the support sources of friends, family, community groups and your credentialed diabetes educator or therapist.
If you have diabetes, it’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions as well as suffer physical setbacks. Especially right after diagnosis, many people report grieving for their health from before and the life they had previously.
The bottom line is that your mental health matters—early in the game and later on—so talking to a health professional can help. Treating your depression or anxiety may require more than talk therapy though. Some people are genetically predisposed to developing a mental illness while life circumstances and stress can bring the onset of symptoms. Treatment could include short-term or long-term medication in conjunction with other forms of therapy.
Be sure to ask your therapist if he or she has had experience with clients who have diabetes. If not—and this is most likely the case—you can provide your mental health caregiver with additional information to help her or him understand what diabetes is and some of the difficulties you face .
“Remember, you’re interviewing and hiring your therapist,” says Dr. Korey Hood. “And the discussion of mental health should not be separate from the discussion about your diabetes.”
In addition to working with a mental healthcare provider, try implementing the following in terms of self-care to help maintain a healthy mental state:
- Join a community, reach out to other diabetes groups and share your story
- Ask questions of others, learn more about diabetes and depression
- Perform moderate physical activity (consult your doctor about what would be a healthy level of exercise)
- Eat healthy foods
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit your alcohol use
If you think you or someone you know might be contemplating suicide, reach out for additional help here:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline Or call 1 (800) 273-8255 (United States)
Just as much as blood glucose levels are important information in managing your diabetes successfully, so are feelings. Remember that you aren’t alone and there are people out there who understand and have been there. Reach out. Be proactive. And talk about it. There is a wide range of mental health treatments available, so consult an expert today to learn how you can improve your quality of life.
Verified by Dr. Mark Heyman, director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH) in Solana Beach, CA. Mark received his PhD in clinical psychology from The George Washington University and completed his clinical training at UCSD School of Medicine.