Type 1 Diabetes isn’t just about counting carbs, checking blood glucose levels (BGLs) and injecting insulin. The disease takes a heavy toll on emotional and mental wellbeing as well.
As a Type 1 Diabetic and someone who has suffered with mental health issues as a direct result of this, I can confirm from experience how difficult this can be. The biggest misconception is that type 1 Diabetes is just a physical condition and that there are no mental health repercussions from living with the disease.
What is it that makes Diabetes a strain on the mental health? The best place to start would be at the beginning, diagnosis.
Diabetes diagnosis can often lead to anger, denial, fear or depression. These can range from mild feelings of irritation through to serious depression. The feelings are often felt in linear, similar to the process of grief.
Diabetes and Anger
From the initial diagnosis to ongoing self-management, some people are angry about having to deal with diabetes daily. Diabetes must be treated indefinitely since there is no specific cure. The goal is to maintain healthy blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This can be a challenge that makes people feel “angry at the disease” and the steps it takes to treat it.
Diabetes and Denial
Denial is another common emotion felt following diagnosis. Denial is a difficult emotion, and happens when people refuse to believe that something has happened to them.
Diabetes and Fear
Fear is another common response to diabetes diagnosis. Fear occurs when contemplating the present and future management of Diabetes. Diabetes is a serious condition that requires regular management, therefore fear is a natural response.
Diabetes and Depression
Diabetes can be a difficult condition to accept and it is not uncommon for mental health issues such as depression to occur before or following a diabetes diagnosis. This is because our mental and physical health are inextricably linked so people living with long term diseases such as Diabetes or Epilepsy will naturally suffer an impact on mental health.
Once you are over the initial shock of diagnosis, the challenge is the prospect of managing the disease for the rest of your life. The daily struggle of trying to keep your blood sugar levels between the optimum numbers, having to carb count everything you eat and remembering all your diabetic essentials, influences everyday life, emotions, relationships and behaviour.
Diabetes is a self-managed condition. This means that it is the person with Diabetes, not their doctor, who is responsible for taking care of themselves on a daily basis. Diabetes involves making frequent, sometimes life or death dependant decisions under sometimes stressful and physically uncomfortable circumstances.
Many people with diabetes know that it can result in some unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions. One question that I have a lot is why living with diabetes is so tough and what causes these negative emotions?
Being diagnosed and living with a chronic condition like diabetes can be really hard, and managing the balancing of everything that’s necessary to live well with it can be overwhelming. Even if you do everything that you are “supposed” to do, diabetes can be unpredictable and frustrating. With the physical aspect of having an auto-immune disease, a natural side effect is that you are prone to other illnesses meaning that you become ill quickly, even if you are a “good” Diabetic.
A common side effect to this is called ‘Diabetic Burnout’ which is the term given to the state of disillusion, frustration and somewhat submission to the condition of diabetes. At times of diabetic burnout, a person will often participate in self-destructive behaviours. This means that Diabetics are in a cycle of constant physical and mental health issues that is not easily to break out of. This chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifest an illness.
Relationships are an important part of the human condition and in many people’s emotional well-being, and when diabetes affects relationships – and it does – this can cause a significant level of distress to a person’s mental and physical health.
Having diabetes and the stress it involves (the situation), the way it makes you feel (the emotions), and the impact it has on your relationship with others intersect, and can sometimes make it difficult to behave in the way that you want to. Behaviour is also dependant on the individuals BGLs with high readings meaning the individual will be more likely to be angry compared to someone with low readings being more agitated, worried, and depressed.
Even though Diabetes and Mental Health issues are synonymous which each other, and often frustrating, there are many people with diabetes who live fulfilling lives and who have fulfilling relationships.
It is Diabetes Awareness Week 11th-17th June, for more information please go to:
Find out ‘How to Beat Diabetes Burnout’ here.
By Reece Hobson