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I’m a Doctor With Diabetes — Here’s Easy methods to Prioritize Mental Health within the Diabetes Community

Guest contributor Brian Ulmer, MD, is a diabetologist at St. Vincent Medical Group in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that folks with diabetes are two to thrice more more likely to have depression than people without diabetes, yet only 25 percent to 50 percent get treated.

My very own experiences as an individual living with type 1 diabetes and as a practicing diabetologist offer a perspective on each ends of the equation.

I used to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after I was five. Over these years, I even have lived with the constant unpredictability of diabetes. Each time I assumed I’d nailed it with a routine that might help me stay in my blood glucose range, I’d find that I hadn’t. Diabetes was something I couldn’t escape. Ever.  It’s a 24/7, 365-day/12 months/yearly disease. Omnipresent. There was never going to be a diabetes-free holiday.

The connection between diabetes and mental health will not be latest. Diabetes distress and diabetes burnout have been well-studied. Stress hormones may make diabetes tougher to regulate and folks with mental health challenges could also be less motivated to properly look after themselves. The connection is powerful and goes each ways – the excellent news is that addressing mental health issues may help improve diabetes management as well.

How can we create a more positive environment for individuals with diabetes to ask for help, and for healthcare providers to enhance recognition of mental health challenges?   Listed below are five suggestions:

  1. Healthcare providers can take a more holistic approach to treating patients with diabetes that goes beyond blood glucose control. Treating the entire person requires us to discuss lifestyle, including nutrition, exercise, and challenges to diabetes self-management. We want to hearken to patients and observe body language that could be an indicator of their diabetes way of thinking — stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, and even anger.
  2. Healthcare providers can proactively ask inquiries to assess a patient’s diabetes way of thinking, corresponding to: How are you feeling at work? Have you ever noticed any feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or frustration?  Have you ever noticed any changes in these feelings since your last visit?
  3. During a visit — either in person or remotely — healthcare providers can assure individuals with diabetes who’re experiencing mental health challenges that they will not be alone. That it’s OK to not be OK. Getting help can address issues that impact their mental health and diabetes control, and knowledge and resources can be found.
  4. Higher awareness of triggers of emotional stress can provide earlier recognition of the necessity to take motion. Sometimes, this is so simple as feeling protected talking about this with family and friends. Sometimes, it’s voicing the necessity for help from a specialist or general practitioner.
  5. Easing the way in which individuals with diabetes can manage their disease at work. There are steps employers can take on the workplace, including, promoting general wellness and offering services that assist in diabetes care in advantages programs.

Mental health is a subject that needs more attention from everyone – individuals with diabetes, healthcare providers, employers, and the general public. A recent survey1 of US adults, including individuals with diabetes, showed that roughly one out of two people (51 percent) were surprised to learn of the connection between diabetes and mental health. The identical survey revealed the diabetes way of thinking is described as stressed, anxious, frustrated, burdened, and offended, and barriers to treatment range from lack of access to appropriate care to fear of stigma from family, friends, and work.

The actual fact is mental well-being could also be unaddressed for years, and each diabetes care and mental health may suffer. There’s every reason, and ample opportunities, to get mental well-being more front and center so more of us can get and provides the assistance needed.

Perhaps it’s because I live with diabetes myself that I’m particularly attuned to my patients’ mental well-being. Or perhaps it’s because I see how overwhelming the entire challenges of diabetes are for patients, corresponding to the fear of hypoglycemia or complications like blindness and kidney disease, or issues like affordability and access to care. Either way, it’s clear to me that as professionals and patients, it’s time to understand that the diabetes way of thinking is real. It is necessary to maneuver beyond just treating glucose in diabetes, and the earlier we recognize it and discuss it more openly, the more connected individuals with diabetes will feel to their bodies and minds, their families, and their doctors, and can get the assistance they need.


Disclaimer: Roche will not be providing medical or mental health advice. This content will not be, and will not be intended to be, relied upon as medical or mental health advice neither is it intended to be relied upon for any medical/mental health diagnosis or treatment.  At all times seek the recommendation of a physician or other qualified healthcare skilled regarding any medical/mental health questions you’ll have. Don’t ignore medical/mental health symptoms, medical/mental health advice previously obtained from a physician or other qualified healthcare skilled, or delay in obtaining medical/mental health advice based upon this content.

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