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Diabetes and Depression: Two Difficult Conditions to Manage

Diabetes and depression are difficult conditions to manage and they make each other worse. Learn how they affect each other and how to improve both on HealthyPlace.

Diabetes and depression are difficult. Each one is challenging by itself, and when they occur together, managing them might seem impossible. It’s not unusual for diabetes and depression to develop together and make each other worse.

If you live with diabetes, it’s important to watch closely for the development of depression. When someone has both illnesses, their level of impairment increases, and daily tasks and overall functioning becomes more of a struggle. Even more sobering is that the mortality rate increases when diabetes and depression occur together.  

This doesn’t mean, however, that the illnesses are a death sentence. Use the information here to start a plan to manage your health.  

Diabetes and Depression: A Two-Way Street

Having either illness increases the chances that the other will develop. The conditions aggravate each other, too. When depression worsens, so does diabetes; likewise, when diabetes worsens, so does depression.

A reason for the connection is that they have shared risk factors ("What Are the Diabetes Risk Factors?"). Researchers have found that both diabetes and depression have biological and behavioral components underlying their development. The illnesses are:

  • Strongly influenced by lifestyle
  • Associated with chronic inflammation in the body
  • Exacerbated by sleep problems
  • Influenced by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning in the brain
  • Genetically influenced

Given their shared risk factors and causes, it makes sense that depression and diabetes occur together. Aside from this common ground, each illness contributes to the other.

Diabetes: So Difficult That It Can Cause Depression

Diabetes can sometimes lead to depression. Having diabetes can cause depression in two significant ways: life experience and biology.

Biologically, diabetes impacts the brain in ways that can contribute to depression. Insulin resistance is a part of type 2 diabetes in which the body doesn’t use its insulin correctly, causing a variety of health problems.  Hyperglycemia, or high blood pressure, is another aspect of both types of diabetes that causes damage throughout the body. Insulin resistance and hyperglycemia can negatively affect the brain. One such negative impact is the development of depression.

Depression can develop, too, from the experience of living with such a life-altering disease. Life with diabetes is constantly stressful and can affect thoughts, emotions, and behavior profoundly enough to lead to depression.

Managing diabetes and trying to live a “normal” life can feel overwhelming and sometimes make you want to give up trying to treat it. It can be energy-zapping and can induce strong emotions like guilt for having diabetes or despair over missing your old lifestyle.

Given the biological and experiential causes, it’s no wonder that diabetes can cause depression. The statistics are telling. Type 1 diabetes and depression have the strongest link: People with type 1 diabetes have a risk for depression that is three times higher than the non-diabetic population. The depression risk in type 2 diabetes is double that of the general population.

Yes, diabetes contributes to depression. Also, depression plays its own role in the worsening of diabetes.

Depression Makes Diabetes Harder to Control

Having depression is hard to deal with. Add diabetes on top of that, and managing these illnesses seems daunting. Some of the things people with depression experience are a loss of interest in life, feeling overwhelmed, crushing fatigue, appetite changes, and lack of motivation. Diabetes needs continual management and monitoring, but depression symptoms get in the way of diabetes control.

Depression can also cause unhealthy eating or overeating, both things dangerous to diabetes and blood sugar levels. Depression medications play a role in diabetes as well because many antidepressant medications make blood sugar difficult to control.

Depression can keep people from properly managing their diabetes. This worsens diabetes symptoms, which in turn worsens depression symptoms.

Despite problems, it is possible to manage diabetes and depression. Once improvements begin, they become easier and life feels so much better.

Managing Diabetes and Depression: Hard but Not Hopeless

Now that you know more about the connection between these illnesses, you can be proactive. Early intervention is helpful. Whether you’re able to stop the downward spiral of worsening diabetes or depression symptoms before they get out of hand or if you’re deeply into depression and diabetes difficulties, you can take control of the illnesses and your life.

  • Make small lifestyle changes and gradually add to them over time. Diet, exercise, and sleep are just a few things that help both diabetes and depression.
  • Discuss medication options with your doctor to find what works best for you.
  • Consider working with a therapist to deal with depression and lifestyle changes.

Little changes go a long way toward wellbeing. Changing even one thing to start will make a positive difference.

One study demonstrated that people with diabetes who added more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other healthy foods to their diet had 32 percent lower chances of depression than those who didn’t make this healthy change (Rodriguez et al., 2015). You can create similar great results for yourself and keep going.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). Diabetes and Depression: Two Difficult Conditions to Manage, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/diabetes-and-depression-two-difficult-conditions-to-manage

Last Updated: May 10, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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