Diabetes Education and Mental Health Treatment

About a year ago, I became a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). Since then, one that’s that’s become really clear to me is how much impact a little bit of basic diabetes education can have on a person’s psychological well-being. Even though my primary role is psychologist, and not diabetes educator, it’s my job to work with my patients to develop a treatment plan that addresses their needs, which includes helping them cope with the stress of living with diabetes. More often that not, this treatment plan includes some form of diabetes education.

The more I think about it, educating patients is very much in-line with my training as a psychologist – even if the diabetes aspect is a bit unique. Psychologists educate the their patients on a regular basis. At the beginning of treatment, we give our patients information about their condition (e.g., if someone has depression, we would explain the symptoms, what we know about the causes, and what we can do to help them). It sounds simple, but this information can really help give people’s experience some context and take the mystery (and anxiety) out of these uncomfortable emotions.

This same thing is true for people who are struggling emotionally with diabetes. Most of the people that I see in my practice come because they having trouble adjusting to diabetes or because diabetes is overwhelming them or causing them anxiety. The common theme is that my patients, in some way, are not steady on their ‘diabetes feet’. I’ve found that integrating simple diabetes education into my broader treatment plans goes a long way in improving my patients’ emotional and psychological functioning. Here are some thoughts on why…

Diabetes education reduces anxiety: The unknown is scary and overwhelming, and for many folks, diabetes is full of mystery. The more information I can give my patients, in a way that’s simple and easy to understand, the more comfortable, and less anxious they’ll be. Reducing anxiety makes them feel more confident in their ability to manage diabetes and breaks down barriers to working on deeper issues.

Diabetes education empowers: The more people with diabetes understand their condition, the more empowered they’ll feel to take steps to manage it well. So many of the people I see feel like diabetes controls them, rather than the other way around. My goal is to help folks change their relationship with diabetes, and one of the best tools I have to do that is education. The more people know about diabetes, the more empowered they’ll be to take the reins.

Diabetes education instills hope: As a psychologist, one of the most important things I can do for my patients is give them hope that things can get better. Diabetes education is a key to hope because it shows the person that there are steps they can take to manage their diabetes and gives them confidence that they can take these steps. Helping patients understand how their diabetes treatment works, and why it will help, and teaching them simple ways to integrate the different aspects of their treatment into their lives can give them hope that they can be successful, and make it all feel less overwhelming.

I really hope that framing diabetes education as a psychosocial intervention also inspires confidence in other diabetes educators. So many of the CDEs that I’ve met believe they don’t have the knowledge and tools they need to really address their patients’ emotional concerns, when in fact good diabetes education, combined with a dose of empathy is worth it’s weight in gold. There are some people who have issues these CDEs don’t have the complete skill set to tackle, but most CDEs probably have more tools than they think they do!

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