Does Type 1 diabetes affect mental health?

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Like any chronic disease, Type 1 diabetes has an impact  on day-to-day life. For many people,  it can also affect their mental health.

Self-esteem

Diabetes can adversely affect one’s self-esteem. In a society where perfect health is idealized, it can be difficult to live with diabetes, especially during the teenage years. It’s important to understand your condition, to learn how to be proud of what you do and be kind to yourself. Notably,, one study demonstrated that more well controlled diabetes correlated with higher levels of self-confidence1.

Stress

There are multiple factors involved: constantly testing blood sugar levels, fear of hypoglycemia and complications from diabetes, the stresses of everyday life… Whether it is physical or mental, stress triggers the production of hormones, catecholamines (including adrenaline most notably), which in turn cause variations in blood sugar levels and, in particular, hyperglycemia. Stress can have an impact on blood sugar control as a result of less healthy  eating behaviors, such as excessive snacking, skipping meals or drinking too much alcohol. So it’s a good idea to try to manage stress, through activities such as yoga or meditation, for example.

Depression

People with Type 1 diabetes are thought to be two or three times more likely to suffer from depression2. It is essential to detect signs of depression, such as a loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, feelings of guilt or uselessness, intense fatigue or appetite and sleep disturbances. Diagnosing depression will not only bring benefits in terms of well-being, but also in terms of blood sugar control, since depression is clearly associated with poorer diabetes management3. So treating depression is very important, particularly since effective treatments are now available. If someone close to you has Type 1 diabetes and is showing signs of depression, encourage them to consult a healthcare professional so that they can be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Eating disorders 

Teenagers are the age group most affected by eating disorders, particularly if they are living with Type 1 diabetes4.

It’s easy to see why eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia or diabulimia) cause specific problems when it comes to managing diabetes, given that mealtime insulin doses are usually based on the amounts of carbohydrates eaten. Specialized support is often helpful.

The WHO recognizes mental health as an integral part of our general health: it is a social issue. A better awareness of these problems when living with Type 1 diabetes means they can be more effectively be managed or anticipated. 

  1. Minke M. A. Eilander et al., “Low Self-Confidence and Diabetes Mismanagement in Youth with Type 1 Diabetes Mediate the Relationship between Behavioral Problems and Elevated HbA1c,” Research article, Journal of Diabetes Research, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/3159103.
  2. SV Bădescu et al., “The Association between Diabetes Mellitus and Depression,” Journal of Medicine and Life 9, no. 2 (2016): 120–25, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863499/
  3. Paula M. Trief et al., “Longitudinal Changes in Depression Symptoms and Glycemia in Adults With Type 1 Diabetes,” Diabetes Care 42, no. 7 (July 1, 2019): 1194–1201, https://doi.org/10.2337/dc18-2441.
  4. G. Gastaldi and J. Bringer, “Savoir repérer les troubles du comportement alimentaire chez les patients atteints de diabète de type 1,” /data/revues/19572557/00060002/143/, March 14, 2012, https://www.em-consulte.com/en/article/698949.

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