Diabetes and Mental Health: How One Affects the Other
Diabetes and mental health have a rather deep relationship. Each one affects the other in many ways. Living with either diabetes or a mental health condition can increase the risk of developing the other. Also, symptoms and effects of diabetes and mental health conditions are worse when someone has both diabetes and a mental health diagnosis.
Diabetes and Mental Health: One Affects the Other Because Both Are Hard
Diabetes and mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, initially seem unrelated. It’s easy to overlook something important they share: they are chronic illnesses that are difficult to live with and manage.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t use it correctly. Insulin is needed because without it, glucose (sugar) from digestion can’t get into the cells of the body.
It stays in the bloodstream rather than entering the cells to be used as energy. Too much glucose in the blood is called hyperglycemia and is dangerous. People with diabetes must monitor their blood sugar levels closely and make necessary adjustments in their treatment to keep these levels stable.
Because of the intensity of daily monitoring, treatment, and lifestyle management, diabetes is stressful physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can cause emotional responses like stress, frustration, anger, and feelings of sadness or hopelessness. These mental health effects of diabetes aren’t necessarily depression or anxiety, but they’re similar. The experience is known as diabetes distress, or diabetes burnout, and it is part of someone’s mental health. When diabetes distress lasts or worsens, it can become major depression ("What’s the Link Between Diabetes and Mental Illness?").
The link between mental health and diabetes is strong if for no other reason than that living with these illnesses is hard. However, there are other reasons for the effects of diabetes on mental health and the effects of mental health issues on diabetes.
Diabetes and Mental Health Issues: Why They Affect Each Other
Two primary, chronic, forms of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Both types of diabetes affect mental health.
Mental health challenges like depression can impact diabetes. Depression, for example, depletes people of energy and decreases motivation. This makes adherence to diabetes treatment plans difficult, potentially worsening diabetes. Other effects of depression that affect diabetes include:
- Overeating (can cause weight gain, which is linked to type 2 diabetes)
- Inactivity (increases blood sugar and makes management more difficult)
- Fatigue and a sense of worthlessness (can make people ignore diabetes treatment)
- Psychiatric medications can interact with diabetes medications
Likewise, diabetes can worsen depression and other mental health challenges for various reasons:
- The stress of managing diabetes contributes to anxiety ("Diabetes and Anxiety: There’s Plenty to Be Anxious About")
- A sense of hopelessness can contribute to depression ("Diabetes and Depression: Two Difficult Conditions to Manage")
- Blood sugar levels that are too high, too low, or fluctuating have negative effects on the brain that can lead to mental health disorders
The mutual risk factor and the worsening of each other’s symptoms that arise from the connection between diabetes and mental health creates a vicious cycle. The stress of living with diabetes as well as its impact on the brain can cause mental health issues. These, in turn, make managing diabetes more difficult and can increase the severity of the disease or contribute to the development of the disease. This cycle can create additional problems ("Uncontrolled Diabetes and Mental Health Complications").
Problems Associated with the Diabetes and Mental Health Link
Living with diabetes and a mental health condition is challenging and has multiple consequences:
- Decreased quality of life
- Poor adherence to treatment for diabetes and mental health, which increases illness severity
- Increased cost of care
- Higher number of visits to the emergency room
- More admissions to the hospital
- Greater absenteeism from school or work, sometimes resulting in school failure or unemployment
While extra problems and challenges can arise when someone has both diabetes and a mental health condition, the situation isn’t all bad. How does diabetes affect your mental health? It can be very positive. When you’re aware of the challenges, you can use your insight to develop and adhere to a treatment plan as well as seek support. Addressing diabetes and mental health together can enhance wellness.
Last Updated: 09 January 2019
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD