On Connection Between Depression and Diabetes

July 15, 2013

depression and diabetes

by Zoe Camp

When you have depression, life can seem unbearable. Making a simple decision takes an eternity. It’s difficult to concentrate. Conversation feels like pulling teeth, and you can feel yourself withdrawing from the people you love. If you suffer from diabetes, these immobilizing aspects of depression may make it even harder to manage your condition effectively. When the two mix, the results can be toxic, and seriously damaging to your long-term health.

According to the Behavioral Diabetes Institute, having diabetes increases the chances of having a significant problem with depression – and conversely, depression can make it difficult to properly manage diabetes. It’s estimated that 15-20% of diabetics suffer from moderate or severe depression. Although scientists aren’t sure which condition fuels which, they do recognize a symptomatic link: the combination of the two conditions can blamed for an entire host of health problems, including poor blood glucose control, heart disease, retinopathy (eye damage), and a shorter life-span.

The connection can be explained in one of two ways: psychologically or biologically. From a psychological standpoint, it’s easy to see how diabetes takes its toll on the mind; the daily work of monitoring blood sugar, watching what you eat, and taking medications can be overwhelming. At times, the disease can feel like a life sentence, and this can lead to depression. On the other hand, the physical symptoms of diabetes may be to blame; chronic pain, sleep problems, and high blood glucose levels (and even common diabetes medications like beta blockers) can all worsen the symptoms of depression.

The tie between depression and diabetes may be difficult to explain, but that doesn’t mean the two conditions can’t be managed in tandem. Here are some steps you can take.

Recognize the symptoms of depression.

Everybody gets the blues now and again, but if your sadness lingers for more than two weeks or begins to interfere with your everyday routine, you may need to speak to your doctor. Symptoms commonly associated with depression include:

  • Decreased pleasure/interest in activities and interests you previously enjoyed
  • Chronic, unexplained fatigue
  • Unshakable feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, and despair
  • Increased irritability/restlessness
  • Persistent headaches, aches, cramps, and digestive problems that are resistant to traditional remedies
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia, oversleeping, waking up too early)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Crying spells
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide

Tell your doctor.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, you may be hesitant to reach out to others. But by keeping your emotions to yourself and attempting to manage them alone, you may actually make the depression worse. The next time you go to the doctor for your regular check-up, notify your doctor of your depressive symptoms – they may be related to your diabetes, as opposed to being purely psychiatric. If your doctor rules out physical causes, he or she may refer you to a specialist who will be able to offer more specific treatment. But unless you speak to your doctor first, you won’t be able to get the help you need.

Follow your treatment plan carefully.

Depending on your specific case, your doctor or psychiatrist may offer one of several methods of treatment.

  • Psychotherapy, often shortened to “therapy,” involves talking with a mental health professional trained to help treat mental and emotional problems. There are many types of psychotherapy; two of the most prevalent types include Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which seeks to change negative behavioral patterns that may contribute to depression, and Gestalt therapy, an approach that focuses on self-awareness.
  • Antidepressants treat the chemical imbalances that are often responsible for depression. If you’re already taking a lot of medications for your diabetes, you might be averse to taking another pill, but antidepressant medications have helped millions of people with depression to manage their symptoms. The process of finding an effective medication and dosage can take some time, and most medicines take 4-6 weeks to kick in, but by working with your doctor, you can find a drug that works for you.
  • Most likely, your doctor will also recommend that you get a good nights’ sleep (7-9 hours), as well as 30 minutes of exercise a day. These “cheap antidepressants” have been clinically proven to be effective in treating depression. They also help with managing your diabetes.

Whatever plan of action you and your physician decide on, it’s important that you follow all directions and follow-up regularly – just as you would with your diabetes treatment plan. Don’t self-medicate, and tell your doctor if you start to feel worse or have any unexpected side effects or qualms. Communication is key.

Don’t give up hope.

Diabetes often brings about feelings of despair. You might feel angry, ashamed, or even guilty for having developed the condition and depression can make these feelings worse. But there’s plenty of good news – in the 21st century, more and more diabetics are living long, happy lives, with fewer complications. You are not alone – your family, friends, and doctor are all in your corner, and with their support, you can take steps to create a specific action plan to manage both your diabetes and your depression. Most likely, things won’t be perfect instantly, no matter how hard you try. But over time, you will be more confident in your ability to control your illness, and you will feel better. Promise.

For more tips on how to manage depression and diabetes, check out the Behavioral Diabetes Institute’s website.

Image Credit: Marina