Breaking the Diabetes-Depression Cycle
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, there’s a surprising fact that you should be aware of: You may have an increased risk of depression, too.
The reason behind the link isn’t entirely clear, says Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with the Crozer-Keystone Health System in Springfield, Pennsylvania and the author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers.
“Psychologically, living with diabetes — coping with its daily management and complications — can cause sadness and perhaps major depression,” Dr. Jacobs said.
A September 2015 review in the International Journal of Endocrinology suggested that chronic stress might lead to insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes.
There are other possible explanations, too: Managing diabetes and its complications can cause sadness and perhaps major depression, says Dr. Jacobs.
“It’s a cyclic disease,” adds Susan Ardilio, RD, a certified diabetes educator with Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Islip, New York.
For example, you may feel bad because you can’t eat what your friends without diabetes are eating. That can lead to social isolation, which makes you feel worse. And when that happens, you might overeat or indulge in unhealthy foods — behaviors that, Ardilio explains, can worsen your diabetes and lead to depression.
It’s not clear if diabetes causes depression or if depression can lead to diabetes, Jacobs says. But if you’re not taking good care of your health, one condition can impact the other.
If you’re depressed, you might not have the motivation to maintain control of your blood sugar levels or exercise regularly. And, in fact, depression may be linked to cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes, according to a study published in the April 2015 issue of Medical Hypotheses.
How to Keep Diabetes and Depression Under Control
If you suspect that you’re depressed, the first step is to tell your doctor, who can help you work toward a diagnosis. While symptoms like trouble sleeping or concentrating might stem from depression, they can also be side effects of a medication or indicate a problem with your blood sugar levels. If depression is diagnosed, your doctor may recommend talk therapy and antidepressant medication if needed, Jacobs says.
In the meantime, these three steps can help you manage diabetes and your emotional health:
Exercise regularly. It’s hard to stay active if you can’t motivate yourself to move. But once you get going, you’ll see benefits in your mood and blood sugar levels. In fact, researchers found that after exercising regularly for a year, people with type 2 diabetes saw reductions in inflammation and symptoms of depression, according to a study published in August 2015 in the International Journal of Endocrinology.
Join a diabetes support group. They’re protected environments where you can share information, understanding, and validation — which goes a long way toward preventing depression, Jacobs says. Plus, people who attend regular support group meetings take better care of their diabetes than those who don’t, according to a study in the December 2014 issue of The Journal of Nursing Research. Find a group online through the American Diabetes Association.
Maximize your meals. Not only will a healthy diet help you control your blood sugar levels, but it will also help you feel better about yourself emotionally, Ardilio says. This, in turn, can ward off negative feelings and lead to better overall health, she adds. Work with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator in your area on food selection and meal planning. Many insurance plans cover visits to these specialists.
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