Diabetes takes mental health toll

Research news
28 August 2014
Supporting people with diabetes requires looking beyond blood sugar.

Alarming rates of depressive symptoms and distress among Australians with diabetes have prompted calls for doctors, pharmacists and diabetes educators to focus as much on mental health as they do on blood glucose management.

Professor Jane Speight, Deakin’s Chair of Behavioural and Social Research in Diabetes, and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes - a partnership between Diabetes Australia (Victoria) and Deakin University - recently told a diabetes experts meeting in Melbourne that one-in-four people managing diabetes experience moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms.

“The mental health of people with diabetes is often not on the radar because of the focus on blood glucose, cardiovascular risk and nerve damage,” she told attendees at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Diabetes Society and the Australian Diabetes Educators’ Association.

“Diabetes is a life-long and progressive illness that affects emotional and mental wellbeing, yet health professionals often lack the skills or confidence to ‘open up the can of worms’ and talk about mental health with people with diabetes,” she said.

Professor Speight led research that found one-in-six adults with diabetes experience moderate-to-severe anxiety symptoms, while one-in-five report severe diabetes-related distress.

“It’s often a vicious cycle of difficulties with self-management and achieving target blood glucose levels leading to distress, which can become severe and requires the understanding and support of health professionals. Diabetes care really does demand a holistic approach,” she said.

“We know now that for many people with diabetes, depressive symptoms can often be explained by the distress they feel in relation to their diabetes or its complications.”

Professor Speight highlighted the role that Credentialled Diabetes Educators can play in helping people living with diabetes self-manage all facets of their condition.

“Diabetes educators play a key role in achieving optimal diabetes outcomes, and this should include identifying and addressing symptoms of depression, anxiety and diabetes-related distress,” she said.

“Educators, doctors and pharmacists shouldn’t be scared to have ‘the conversation’ and help tease out the extent to which diabetes is effecting their mental health.”

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Professor Jane Speight Professor Jane Speight

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