Living with diabetes is a journey that extends beyond managing blood sugar levels and adhering to treatment regimens. It’s a journey encompassing the complex interplay between physical health and mental well-being. As a licensed psychologist specializing in chronic disease, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact a diabetes diagnosis can have on an individual’s mental health. In this blog, we’ll explore the emotional challenges associated with diabetes, from internalized stigma to depression and anxiety, and discuss strategies for coping and thriving in the face of adversity.

Understanding Diabetes Distress

Adjustment struggles are a normal part of the journey for many individuals following a chronic illness diagnosis, and diabetes is no different. A diabetes diagnosis typically involves many lifestyle changes that require major shifts in daily life. 

It’s not uncommon to experience feelings of overwhelm, frustration, and even inadequacy when faced with the daily demands of diabetes management. People who internalize the stigma surrounding diabetes may experience a lower sense of self-worth, higher diabetes distress, and a diminished quality of life.

Diabetes distress encompasses a range of emotions, including feelings of being overwhelmed by diabetes care, a sense of “failing” at managing the condition, and worries about future health outcomes. This distress can manifest in self-destructive behaviors, such as reducing insulin doses, avoiding self-management tasks, or skipping medication.  Additionally, diabetes distress can lead to disengagement with treatment, increased hyperglycemia, and lower overall quality of life.

Possible Triggers of Diabetes Distress

Diabetes distress can stem from various sources and triggers, including individual, familial, and sociocultural factors. Individual factors such as perfectionism, shyness, and low self-efficacy may contribute to feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy. Familial factors, such as poor communication and understanding, and the desire for family to want to help and not knowing how, can exacerbate distress and create additional challenges in diabetes management. Sociocultural factors, including bullying, isolation, and stigma surrounding diabetes, can further contribute to feelings of distress and isolation. Understanding your individual situation, feelings, and risks is the first step to establishing a plan to manage distress. One of the best resources I’ve found to assess your personal situation with diabetes is Diabetes Distress Assessment & Resource Center. You can take an assessment to get a better understanding of how this issue may play into your mental health. Taking this assessment can also act as a guide for explaining your situation to a mental health professional like myself. Visit this link here:

Diabetes Affects Mental Health

Living with diabetes is associated with an increased risk of mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety. Individuals with diabetes are about twice as likely to experience depression and approximately 20 times more likely to have anxiety compared to the general population. Depression and anxiety can further exacerbate diabetes distress, creating a cycle of emotional and physical health challenges.

Behavioral Health Interventions

Fortunately, there are effective strategies for addressing the emotional challenges associated with diabetes. Behavioral health interventions, such as problem-solving, goal-setting, and action planning, have been shown to result in modest but significant improvements in both A1C levels and mental health outcomes. These interventions can help individuals develop coping skills, enhance self-care behaviors, and improve overall well-being.

When to Seek Help

It’s essential to recognize when additional support may be needed. If you’re experiencing impaired self-care, symptoms of depression or anxiety, disordered eating, or feelings of diabetes distress like we’ve discussed, it may be beneficial to seek help from a health psychologist specializing in diabetes care. Behavioral health interventions can help address these challenges and empower you to cultivate resilience and well-being in the face of diabetes.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Living with diabetes presents unique challenges that extend beyond the physical aspects of the condition. Recognizing and acknowledging the triggers and symptoms of distress is the first step to improving your mental well-being. When you are ready to learn the proactive strategies to mitigate diabetes distress, you can visit my website for a free introductory consultation. Contact Dr. Rebekah Markheim, Psy.D., she/her.

Remember, you’re not alone, and there is hope and support available along the way.