Diabetes and Mental Health: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the diabetes community about the need to address the emotional aspects of living with diabetes. Many people with diabetes – both type 1 and type 2 – have a really hard time dealing with the emotional aspects of diabetes, and this can have a big impact on their quality of life and their ability to follow their treatment plan. While we can’t make diabetes disappear (just yet), we can support people with diabetes to help them not feel so alone and give them skills and resources to help them to deal with any difficult emotions they may feel.

Saying that ‘we’ should do something to help people with diabetes deal with these issues is nice, but it begs the question who is ‘we’ and what exactly should ‘we’ do? The ‘what’ question is complex and one that I will try to answer on an ongoing basis in the blog, but the ‘who’ question is much simpler – I want to suggest that everyone in the diabetes community can (and should) play a role in the process. Having all parties – even some unexpected ones – take an active role in improving the emotional well-being of those living with diabetes can benefit everybody.

The Patient: Each person with diabetes is the most important member of his/her treatment team. Diabetes is a round-the-clock condition, and people with diabetes make decisions that affect their health – including their mental health – throughout the day. From knowing when they need to find support, to recognizing how their emotional state impacts their blood sugars and how their blood sugars impact their emotional state, people living with diabetes are the people that know their diabetes best, including the emotional side of diabetes.

Health care team: Even though the patient should play a central role in his or her diabetes treatment team, they shouldn’t be alone. The medical professionals who care for people with diabetes play an important role in supporting their patients managing in both the physical and emotional side of diabetes. Diabetes treatment teams should spend part of every visit asking patients what is most challenging for them about living with diabetes right now. Not only will this give the patient the opportunity to vent, but also can give their health care team some important insights into how well they are managing their diabetes. In an ideal world, there is a mental health professional that is part of the team that the patient can see if they need additional support or more specialized mental health treatment.

Diabetes mental health professionals: Sometimes people with diabetes may have diabetes-related emotional challenges that could benefit from professional help. These may include things such as emotional distress that impacts a person’s ability to manage their diabetes, relationship issues, eating disorders, or a need for support from someone who really understands the emotional side of diabetes. Mental health professionals with expertise in diabetes play a really important role in supporting people with diabetes – and unfortunately, there are not enough of us out there! Do you know of a good one? I am putting together a list of resources around the country so send me an email ([email protected]) and give me their information and I will add them to the list.

Family/friends: These are the folks who see you at your best and your worst (with diabetes and otherwise) – and love you anyway. These are the people who can offer a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a high-five when you get that illusive reading of 100 on your meter. Friends and family are so important in helping people deal with the emotional rollercoaster that diabetes sometimes is, when you find one’s that ‘gets’ you, you want to hold on tight!

Diabetes community: Sometimes you need support from others who can understand exactly how you are feeling and who have been there too. If you don’t know anybody with diabetes, they are pretty easy to find online. Check out the diabetes online community – Twitter is a great place to start. Try searching hash tags like #diabetes #doc or #dsma. You can follow me on Twitter @diabeticpsych for regular updates on new things going on in the diabetes mental health world. Finding this blog was a great start – and there are lots of others where you can read about other people’s experiences. There are probably also support groups in your local community – do a search online or ask your doctor if he or she knows of any. Most people with diabetes will go out of their way to support others with diabetes, you just have to know where to look and seek them out!

Diabetes companies: As a person with diabetes, you entrust your life to any number of medical devices, insulins or other medications everyday. These devices and medications are with you all the time and play a critical role in helping you manage your diabetes and the companies that make these products are part of the diabetes community. As members of the diabetes community, it’s important for these companies to understand your challenges so when you interact with them (in-person, by phone or online) you feel like they are a trusted partner in your care. We know that people who experience diabetes-related emotional issues have a harder time following their treatment plan, and these companies play a role in helping you overcome these challenges in order to make treatment a little easier. What can these companies do to support you?

Support for people with diabetes can, and should come from a variety places, some of them expected, others not so expected. As a community, we all have a role in helping people live well with diabetes!

2 Comments


  1. This is really great. I have a brother with type 1 and I can tell it’s impacting him emotionally/physically/socially. We tried to talk to him about how he’s managing his blood sugars, diet etc. But it got to the point where he just didn’t even want to talk about it. “I’m fine, leave it alone” The older you get the more susceptible to hypoglycemia, I think. His coworkers and boss seemed to be pretty supportive, but his regular fainting wasn’t always handled right, as they would panic and call an ambulance after administering the glucose shot. His wife was less than supportive, blaming him for his “poor diabetes management.” He fainted in the hospital after she gave birth. I wish I would’ve/could’ve done more for him. He lost his mind and is donig time in federal custody where he get’s super inadequate medical attention and his glucose numbers are pretty much always in the hundreds. People can’t live in prison with type one without having major health consequences.

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  2. Mark Heyman

    Thanks so much for your comment! I’m sorry to hear about your brother. As you point out, diabetes can impact all aspects of your life, from relationships to work, to emotional well being. Living with diabetes is not easy, and people with diabetes need support from everyone in their life.

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