Let's Talk About Diabetes and Mental Health
Due to its chronic nature, often arising out of endocrinological causes, diabetes is known to increase risk of other diseases such as heart disorders, clots, strokes and even kidney diseases.
The disease’s effects on mental health are two-fold – the physiological imbalance of blood glucose levels lead to various mental and physical effects and disorders arising out of the stress and in some cases, trauma of dealing with a chronic disease.
Studies have revealed that if the blood glucose level is elevated or low, it can have direct effects on the mood and body of the patient.
Some symptoms of blood sugar imbalance are as follows:
Feeling tired or having low energy
Co-ordination and decision-making difficulties
Aggression and irritability
Difficulty thinking clearly and quickly
Personality or behavior changes
Changes in blood sugar level can affect a person’s mood and mental status. When blood sugar returns to a normal range, these symptoms often resolve.
Fluctuations in blood glucose can result in rapid mood changes, including low mood and irritability.
Most diabetes diagnosis are not a fatal threat to health. However, a person must make wholesale changes in his lifestyle to manage the disease. It can also seem like a threat to a person’s way of life.
In order to manage diabetes, a patient needs to make changes to their daily routine.
Standard diabetes management or treatment plan typically includes changes in diet by eating only certain kinds of foods, avoiding high sugar drinks and even restricting alcohol intake which can be difficult for anyone regardless of a diabetes diagnosis.
What Is Diabetic Distress?
Diabetes management also involves daily chores like tracking blood glucose and insulin which can be difficult to maintain at the start. Moreover, the expenditure for appropriate care may be burdensome.
These changes can be emotionally draining, and it is not uncommon for a patient to start to notice that they are feeling a slightly disoriented or have very little energy left to carry out important tasks to managing your condition.
Doctors often refer to this condition as Diabetes Distress.
“The correlation between chronic illnesses and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety is extremely common globally.”Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare.
While research is ongoing to gain a deeper understanding of the causes for mental health disorders arising out of diabetes, Dr Parikh explained, “some of the causes maybe attributed to the genetic makeup but diabetes treatment can also induce stress among patients as they are required to make major changes in both their occupational and private lives.”
Dr Parikh suggests that all patients diagnosed with should be recommended for a mental health screening as well.
While this is a widely implemented SOP (Standard Operational Practice) across urban healthcare centers, the same needs to be followed while treating diabetes for the underprivileged.
NGOs and organizations dedicated working to provide basic healthcare to the less privileged patients can play a critical role to help patients manage Diabetes Distress.
Civil society organizations like Smile Foundation have been working constantly to drive access to quality healthcare for people from the marginalized sections of society.
For example, the organization’s “Health Cannot Wait” campaign provides telecounselling services.
Through this initiative, Smile Foundation helps connect health experts to people in order to encourage health seeking behavior by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This can be a powerful tool for screening and raising awareness for mental health.
These initiatives can also help treat diabetes and diabetes distress more effectively.
According to Dr Parikh the best way to effectively deal with diabetes distress is “early identification and early intervention.”
It is critical to diagnose and therefore start the treatment of a patient either through counselling or medication as early as possible.
People with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes.
Moreover, only 25 to 50 percent of people with diabetes who have depression get diagnosed and treated.
A study in the US revealed that up to 45 percent of mental health conditions and cases of severe psychological distress go undetected among patients being treated for diabetes.
On this World Diabetes Day, we must raise awareness regarding the difficulties and stress of managing diabetes and adhering to treatment while also understand the behavioral changes and symptoms that glucose imbalance can trigger.
Effective early screening and swift intervention is key to improving a patient’s health in the long run.
(The author is a lawyer turned business intelligence consultant turned chef. He also designs weekly and monthly meal plans for clients and conducts baking and cooking workshops.)
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