Introducing Jiggy Yoon, a remarkable individual whose life story is a tale of resilience and triumph. As a high school senior, Jiggy faced a series of unimaginable events, from her mother’s heart attack to surviving a devastating fire that took away everything she held dear. Amid this chaos, she received a life-changing diagnosis: diabetes.

Jiggy faced a challenging period. Managing insulin injections and health insurance alone was incredibly stressful. Despite feeling overwhelmed and struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, Jiggy made the decision not to let her diagnosis define her.

Amidst the daily challenges and a sense of profound isolation, Jiggy Yoon showed remarkable resilience in resisting the control that diabetes tried to exert over her life. Her story highlights the importance of empathy in the diabetes community, drawing attention to the crucial support required to address the often overlooked mental health struggles intertwined with this condition. Join us to understand the correlation between diabetes and mental well-being.

What is the connection between diabetes and mental health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), navigating diabetes involves more than just managing blood sugar levels; it is deeply intertwined with mental health. Alarming statistics from the CDC reveal a concerning reality: individuals dealing with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to battle depression compared to those without the condition. Shockingly, only a quarter to half of people dealing with diabetes and depression actively seek professional diagnosis and treatment.

The CDC also highlights that anxiety affects 20% more individuals with diabetes. Within 18 months, an astonishing 33% to 50% experience diabetes distress, compromising their ability to manage the condition effectively. Additionally, studies suggest an increased risk of suicide within the type 1 diabetes community, emphasizing the urgent need for robust mental health support to address these profound challenges.

The correlation between diabetes and mental health is complex. People with diabetes are more vulnerable to experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and diabetes-specific distress. The challenges of managing this chronic illness, including blood sugar fluctuations, daily monitoring, and concerns about long-term effects, contribute to anxiety and diabetes distress.

How does diabetes affect you emotionally and mentally? The emotional strain resulting from managing a chronic illness, coupled with the lifestyle limitations that come with diabetes, can affect mental health and overall well-being. Moreover, the long-term impact of diabetes-related complications, such as nerve damage or vision problems, can significantly affect one’s emotional state, often leading to feelings of frustration, helplessness, or even depression.

Biological and psychosocial factors linking diabetes and mental health

Various biological and psychosocial factors influence the connection between diabetes and mental health. These are as follows:

Biological factors:

  • Genetic factors play a critical role in the development of both diabetes and various mental health conditions. Individuals with a family history of diabetes or mental illnesses might have an increased susceptibility due to inherited genetic traits.
  • Diabetes and mental health disorders share a physiological connection. The disruption of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, can impact both conditions, contributing to mood regulation and glucose metabolism irregularities.
  • Complex interactions between neurological pathways and hormonal systems affect both mental health and diabetes. The stress response involving cortisol and adrenaline can influence blood sugar levels, affecting both diabetes symptoms and mental well-being.

Psychosocial factors:

  • Prolonged stress, whether emotional or environmental, can lead to the release of stress hormones that elevate blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes.
  • Lifestyle changes required for managing diabetes, such as dietary adjustments and exercise routines, can have an impact on mental health. The stress of adapting to new habits and perceived limitations can contribute to emotional distress and affect self-care practices for diabetes management.
  • Misconceptions and societal biases associated with diabetes may cause individuals to feel isolated, which can negatively affect their emotional well-being.

Resources for Diabetes and Mental Health Management

Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, stated, “Mental health and physical health go hand in hand, but services for people with diabetes don’t always reflect this. We need to bridge the divide between physical and mental health services to ensure those with emotional and psychological difficulties related to their condition do not have their needs overlooked”. He added, “It is critical that all diabetes care sees and supports the whole person, and explores what matters most to them.”

In this case, managing diabetes goes beyond just the physical aspect. It also involves having access to resources that can make a significant difference, particularly for individuals facing both mental health challenges and blood sugar fluctuations. This section explores the support available to manage both diabetes and mental health effectively. 

American Diabetes Association (ADA)

The ADA funds research and works towards preventing and managing diabetes. It aims to help those with diabetes lead healthier lives. While it primarily focuses on diabetes management, it may also provide resources or information on managing the emotional and mental aspects related to the condition.

Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists

This organization, previously recognized as AADE, provides resources for both healthcare practitioners and patients. It has a vast repository of research, news, and publications aimed at improving diabetes care. 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases 

This organization offers information about managing the condition of patients with type 2 diabetes. While its primary focus is on diabetes management, it may provide tips or insights into managing the emotional and mental aspects associated with diabetes.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC’s Diabetes section offers basic information about diabetes prevention and control, diabetes programs and initiatives, and data and statistics related to diabetes in the United States. While its primary focus is diabetes, it might have resources to cover associated mental health issues.

Psychosocial Care for People With Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association

This resource provides evidence-based guidelines for psychosocial assessment and care for individuals with diabetes and their families. It addresses the intersection of diabetes and mental health, offering insights into managing emotional well-being alongside diabetes.

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)

JDRF’s primary mission is funding research for type 1 diabetes (T1D). However, it also addresses the emotional challenges that accompany the condition. 

How do we give support to people with both diabetes and mental health disorders?

Supporting individuals managing both diabetes and mental health conditions involves a comprehensive approach that acknowledges their unique challenges. Here are some ways to provide support:

  • Education and Understanding: Educate yourself about both diabetes and mental health disorders to grasp the complexities and potential interactions between the two conditions.
  • Open Communication: Create a safe space for open conversations about emotions, concerns, and challenges related to diabetes and mental health, reducing stigma and fostering understanding.
  • Lifestyle Support: Advocate for healthy lifestyle habits that include balanced nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction techniques, beneficial for both conditions.
  • Regular Monitoring: Help in establishing a routine for monitoring blood sugar levels and mental health symptoms, encouraging consistent check-ins with healthcare professionals.
  • Support Groups and Resources: Introduce support groups, online communities, or local resources specializing in both diabetes and mental health for shared experiences and coping strategies.
  • Personalized Care Plans: Assist in developing personalized care plans tailored to the individual’s needs, integrating diabetes management with mental health support.
  • Encouragement and Empathy: Offer continuous encouragement, understanding, and empathy, acknowledging the challenges they face and celebrating their successes.
  • Psychosocial Assessments: Advocate for regular psychosocial assessments as part of diabetes care to detect and address mental health concerns promptly.
  • Consistent Follow-Up: Ensure regular follow-up appointments with healthcare providers to track progress, adjust treatments if necessary, and provide ongoing support.

In conclusion, a holistic and empathetic approach is essential in supporting individuals who are dealing with the simultaneous challenges of managing diabetes and mental health conditions. By cultivating understanding, providing education, and fostering open communication, we can create a supportive environment where those facing these intertwined challenges feel acknowledged and empowered.

Empathy serves as the foundation of this support, enabling us to accompany individuals on their journey, celebrate their successes, and offer compassion during their most difficult moments. Together, guided by empathy, we can build a community that uplifts and supports everyone on this complex path toward holistic well-being.