In short, yes, having diabetes can cause mental illness. In fact, it goes both ways, having a mental illness also increases the chance of becoming diabetic. Taking care of diabetes management can be stressful. You have to check blood sugar levels, plan what to eat, make sure to take insulin, and exercise. Everything needed to be healthy is a lot of work. Even diabetes prevention is stressful with the planning of meals, staying active, and worrying about becoming diabetic. This post will discuss the common mental illnesses associated with diabetes as well as some helpful tips for prevention and/or coping.
Denial and Anger
A mental illness is any mental condition that affects your mood, thinking, and behavior. Before talking about major mental illnesses, it is important to discuss the common feelings associated with being diagnosed with diabetes which are anger and denial.
Short-term and controlled anger can be an empowering and natural reaction. However, it is out-of-control anger that is a contributing factor to depression and high levels of stress. If you feel like your anger is overpowering you, take a breath and try to identify why you are angry. Is it the loss of control, anger towards yourself, or something else? If you are feeling angry try these tips.
- Take a breath, then take an even bigger breath
- Get a drink of water
- Sit down
- Lean back
- Shake your arms loose
- Take a walk
Denial is also a very common and natural emotion to have when diagnosed with diabetes. You might wonder, “why did this happen to me?” or “there must be a mistake”. Overcoming this denial is important because it can lead to not following your treatment plan. These are some common phrases of denial listed by the American Diabetes Association.
- “One bite won’t hurt.”
- “I’ll go to the doctor later.”
- “I don’t have time to do it.”
- “My diabetes isn’t serious.”
If you have these thoughts don’t worry, denial is common and you can work with your family and friends to help you stick with your treatment plan.
Diabetes Burnout/Diabetes Distress
Burnout is very common and can happen even to the best people. Usually what happens is a person is following their treatment plan but they might not be seeing any results or they had a diabetic-related health problem. Either way, they start to slip, stop checking their blood sugar levels, eat unhealthily, and/or not going to the doctors. When this happens talk to your doctor, a diabetes educator, a mental health professional, or your family to try and help you focus on your goals again. Remember that you do not need perfect blood sugar levels, so try to focus on your smaller goals versus the larger ones. Talking with other people who are in the same situation as you can be beneficial, such as the American Diabetes Association’s community page.
Diabetes can cause the mental illness of depression. According to the CDC, people who have diabetes are 2 to 3 more times more likely to become depressed. Of those people who are depressed, less than half get diagnosed and treated. If you are depressed, it is important to get treated. Being depressed can lead to lower diabetes management which increases the risk of diabetes complications such as nerve damage and heart disease. These are some symptoms of depression. If you think you are or may be depressed, please contact your doctor to get help so you can stay healthy.
- Feeling sad or empty
- Losing interest in favorite activities
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Not being able to sleep or sleeping too much
- Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling very tired
- Feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, or guilty
- Having aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Having thoughts of suicide or death
To learn more about the link between diabetes and depression, check out this podcast.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress is a normal emotion to have but overwhelming or constant amounts of stress are harmful to your health. High-stress levels are caused by many factors such as work, family, and diabetes care. Constant stress can contribute to poor diabetes management and high blood sugar levels.
Diabetes can also cause the mental illness of anxiety. A person with diabetes is 20% more likely to have anxiety. Possibly because diabetes is a long-term condition that needs constant management. These are some tips for lowering your stress and anxiety levels.
- A cardio routine or a simple walk can calm you down and release endorphins, “happy-feel-good” chemicals in the brain.
- Relaxation exercises such as yoga helps center you in the present moment.
- Talk to someone who understands you like a friend or family member, not someone who will cause you more stress. Sometimes it is good to just vent to someone.
- Grab some “you” time. Take time away from what is stressing you out to refocus. Try reading a book, cooking, or something else fun you like to do.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, eat healthy food, and make sure to get enough sleep.