Depression & Diabetes: What is the Link?
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Diabetes and Depression are both major illnesses that affect the body in different ways. Research shows that the depression and diabetes are each linked, and when one is present in an individual it increases the risk that one will develop the other. When someone is affected by both depression and diabetes, there are many things to keep in mind when seeking treatment and deciding how to best support loved ones with these disorders.
Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body breaks down food to use as energy. In a healthy person, food is broken down into glucose that can then be used by cells for energy or converted into fat. The hormone insulin enables glucose to enter cells and turns glucose into useable energy. With diabetes, there is a breakdown in insulin production or in the bodiy’s ability to use the insulin it produces. Without insulin, the body loses its main source of fuel, glucose builds up in the blood, and cells become starved for energy.
Depression is an illness that affects the way people feel physically, their ability to perform everyday activities, and the way they feel emotionally. It occurs in people who have certain genetic risk factors and who have experienced excess stress, trauma, loss of a loved one, or another negative major life event. Symptoms include: sad feelings that last a long period of time, sense of hopelessness, guilt, irritability, not being able to remember details, restlessness, loss of interest, changes in sleeping and eating habits, aches and pains, feeling worthless, anxiousness, feeling empty or numb, having a hard time concentrating, difficulty making decisions, and changes in appetite.
Studies conclude that diabetes and depression are linked, but it isn’t clear if depression creates a higher risk of diabetes or if diabetes creates a higher risk for depression. Although is would seem that diabetes may be more likely to precipitate depression than for depression to precipicate a diabetic state, it appears that both are indeed possible. What is clear though, is that diabetes can worsen symptoms of depression. Depression already makes daily life difficult, so the addition of having to manage diabetes can make an individual feel even more overwhelmed. They might forget or ignore their treatment plan for diabetes, making their symptoms worse for both conditions, which could create an escalating diabetic/depressive crisis.
Supporting a Loved One with Depression
Anytime you are supporting a loved one with depression, it’s best to approach the situation from an understanding place. Be reassuring and supportive at all times. When your loved one has both diabetes and depression there are a few things to keep in mind. Most importantly, they will probably have a difficult time managing their diabetes. Offer to help them keep track of medications, insulin injections, and blood glucose measurements. Encourage them to stick to their special diet. Approach their treatment plan as a team.
Be prepared to handle mistakes and remember to pay attention to adherence to a diabetic treatment plan. Avoid accusing them and placing blame, because it won’t help their depression and may worsen it or make them feel like you aren’t there for them. Instead of “You haven’t been monitoring your blood glucose levels like you should be,” try “How can I help you monitor your blood glucose levels better? Let’s work as a team to make sure it gets done.” In addition to helping them manage their diabetes, you need make sure they discuss medications with their doctor. There are several antidepressants that may cause weight gain, which would further complicate their diabetes and should be avoided. Also, many people with diabetes have other medical issues and take multiple medications. Communication with their doctor about possible interactions is extremely important.
Diabetes and depression are illnesses that affect each other.
It is unclear if diabetes increases the risk of depression, or if depression increases the risk of diabetes. Studies show it is likely that both occur. When helping a loved one with both conditions it is important to keep in mind that they will have a difficult time managing the day to day responsibilities that come with their diabetes. Communication with their doctor is also key to their recovery because of possible drug interactions and side effects that should be avoided so as not to worsen the diabetes. With diligence and proper treatment depression symptoms can lift and a diabetic individual can live a happy and healthy life.
- Tina Fuster
1. Depression and Diabetes. (n.d.). Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-and-diabetes/index.shtml
2. Diabetes and Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/diabetes-and-depression/000138