Diabetes affects every aspect of your life — family, friends, and work. It impacts how you participate in activities, what you eat, and how you feel physically and emotionally. Diabetes requires vigilant 24/7/365 attention. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most people living with diabetes commonly face emotional and social challenges. It is also not surprising that people with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer serious psychological distress.
Diabetes affects every aspect of your life.
Addressing the social, emotional, and psychological aspects is as important as managing blood sugar.
The ADA has recommended that all clinicians address emotional/psychological states of being as a Standard of Diabetes Care.
People with diabetes tend to experience a higher level of stress, worry, feeling down, sadness, burnout, overwhelm, embarrassment, shame, and frustration. This is why addressing the social, emotional, and psychological aspects of diabetes and its complications are just as important as educating patients on how to manage their blood sugar. Depression, anxiety, and other disorders cause serious psychological distress and are associated with poorer medical outcomes as well as a decreased quality of life (QOL).
Emotions and stress can alone increase blood sugar levels. Combining those feelings with a person feeling burned out, depressed, or anxious which leads to a lack of motivation, poor personal hygiene, forgetting to take their medication and/or insulin and check their blood sugars. So, taking care of yourself psychologically/emotionally can improve your health outcomes.
Seeking professional help
The psychosocial aspects of diabetes management play a very important role in health outcomes and quality of life. So much so that the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has made it that clinicians talk to their patients about their emotional/psychological and assess issues that may require a referral to a mental health professional trained in diabetes. The ADA recommends that “Psychosocial care should be integrated with collaborative, patient-centered medical care and provided to all people with diabetes…”
Specifically, the ADA recommends that clinicians assess patients for diabetes distress, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders during their initial visit. This is especially vital when there are changes in their diabetes management (e.g., development or progression of complications), treatment, or life circumstances (e.g., loss of job, death of a loved one, divorce, etc.). These practices should be employed periodically throughout the course of treatment. The guidelines recommend that clinicians include family members and caregivers in assessing their patients’ well-being.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
If healthcare providers find that a person is experiencing emotional/psychological symptoms, getting help and support early is recommended, so issues don’t worsen. Addressing and managing any issues can help prevent them from interfering with a person’s day-to-day functioning and/or managing health conditions. It is easier and more effective to treat psychological issues early before they have progressed into more serious challenges.
If you feel lonely, stressed, worried, burned out, unmotivated, or even just overwhelmed, it’s important to schedule a consultation with a medical professional. Life already throws daily challenges at you. Adding to the extra stress and responsibility of managing your health only adds pressure and can make coping more difficult. Sometimes the overwhelming feelings become too much to handle on your own.
If you feel embarrassed about confiding in family or friends, or you don’t want to burden them, try diabetes support groups, or reach out to your healthcare providers. It’s crucial that you talk to someone who can help you with how you are feeling. Your health care providers can connect you with a mental health care professional — one that specializes in diabetes here: Mental Health Provider Directory Listing | American Diabetes Association.
Find local support
Getting involved with groups of people who also have diabetes can also be helpful. Other people with diabetes know what you are going through. So they understand what you mean when you say you are feeling sad, angry, or frustrated. Therefore, they can be more supportive — in a way that friends and family without diabetes can’t. You can ask your healthcare provider and/or local hospital for a list of diabetes support groups in your area.
The emotional toll and physical consequences of diabetes impact every aspect of a person’s life. Having an emotional response to a physical problem is very common and normal. In fact, if a person didn’t have an emotional response, that would be unusual. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed and anxious from time to time is a typical part of everyone's experience. However, if your emotions or diabetes management become too overwhelming, to the point where they start impacting how you function, you may need extra help. If you sense that your health is deteriorating, then it is time to do something about it. Everyone can benefit from support from time to time when life becomes too much.
- American Diabetes Association Professional Practice Committee. Change and Well-being to Improve Health Outcomes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2022.
- NIH. Emotional and quality-of-life aspects of diabetes management.
- NIH. Association of depression and diabetes complications: A meta-analysis.
- NIH. Disability in Anxiety Disorders.
- NIH. Psychosocial Care for People With Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association.