Mental health and diabetes: combat the statistics
According to Diabetes Australia, one in four people live with depression and this number is higher for those living with type 2 diabetes. In fact, approximately 50% of people living with diabetes live with depression or anxiety symptoms. Depression can come and go, and we need to be aware of our early warning signs so we can work towards prevention.
People diagnosed with diabetes have reported feelings of fear, shame, and guilt (Sane Australia). When a person is first diagnosed, they can find themselves experiencing the stages to grief – similar to the experience of losing a loved one. They might react with disbelief and denial and move through a range of difficult emotions. (Nice, 2005).
Depression and anxiety can, at times, affect the way a person manages their diabetes. For instance, a person living with depression or anxiety might check their blood glucose levels less often or might miss medical appointments due to lack of motivation or energy to manage diabetes. Some people may avoid injecting in public or at all due to feelings of shame or feeling like a failure. (NDSS depression fact sheet).
Feeling down or being worried about your diabetes does not mean you are living with a mental health condition. However, diabetes distress shares some traits with depression and anxiety such as lower moods, lethargy, and sleep disturbances. Improving diabetes management can reduce stress and attending therapy and establishing support systems may also be helpful.
Support is key
Asking for help or support is not a sign of weakness, but a desire to get better. Where possible, stay connected with family, friends, and community. We all need support and living with depression or anxiety and any other mental ill health is no different. Support can come in many different forms, for instance, an exercise buddy, a church or community group, a counselling session, craft group, or from a GP or diabetes educator.
When having appointments with your healthcare team, give as much information as possible. Write down any information and questions you might have. For instance, talk about your sleep, medications, stressors and symptoms you might be experiencing. Remember, you can also ask for a longer appointment or take in a support person.
Can exercise really help?
A common question asked is, can exercise actually help? The answer is yes!
There is now a breadth of knowledge regarding exercise and its benefits on mental health. We know that regular physical activity can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, make people feel stronger and less tired, and improve mood and blood glucose control. Research has found a staggering 17% reduction in the rate of depression for 260,000 participants who engaged in regular exercise.
Not one size fits all
You may have heard the phrase ‘a runner’s high,’ which describes the positive physiological effects of exercise and the release of endorphins (happy hormones). However, the beauty of exercise is that it is less about ‘what type is the best kind,’ and more so about ‘what works best for you’. So be creative and find your own version of the ‘runner’s high’. Whether it be gardening, dancing, or walking, something is always better than nothing (ESSA Exercise 2021 and Mental Health e-book).
Feed the body and mind
When you think of mental health, nutrition is not always the first thing that comes to mind. But research now shows that there is a strong connection to our gut and how this affects our mental health. Did you know, 80% of serotonin, also called the ‘happy hormone’, is produced in your gut? Making changes to our diet can not only nourish our bodies, but also improve our frame of mind. Eating a nourishing diet with some variety can positively affect overall health, and mood.
How can you improve your nutrition you might ask? Our dietitians recommend a range of wholegrains, a range of colourful fruits and veggies and nuts. Its also important that we stay well hydrated with water – all things that help fuel our brains, give us energy, and even improve sleep and concentration.
UQ Healthy Living is here to help you combat statistics around diabetes and mental health.
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.(2021).Diabetes and Mental Health. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/mental-health.html
Diabetes Australia (2021).Depression and Mental Health.
Exercise and Sports Science Australia,ESSA(2018).Exercise and Mental Health.Camella Brightman.Brisbane.
(2021). Diabetes and Depression Factsheet.
Open Minds.(2021).Diabetes and Mental Health. https://www.openminds.org.au/news/diabetes-and-mental-health
Sane Australia.(2008).The Sane Guide to Good Mental Health,for people affected by diabetes.
Sane Australia (2021). Mental health Blogs