What does psychology have to do with diabetes?

As a psychologist trained in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, who also happens to have a special interest in diabetes, I am often asked  “What does psychology have to do with diabetes?”

It is understandable that most people don’t automatically make the link between the two. Many people don’t fully understand what diabetes is, what it involves and how serious it is.

Diabetes in a nutshell
Diabetes is a complex metabolic disease. The two main forms of diabetes are known as Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.  While there are some clear differences between the two types of diabetes, both are lifelong conditions that require daily self-management to prevent the development of serious long-term complications.  For many people, self-management on a daily basis involves taking medications and/or insulin, checking blood glucose levels regularly, maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical activity, and managing the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of blood glucose fluctuations.

Diabetes and stress
Stress is one factor that can contribute to blood glucose fluctuations, and it can also make it more difficult to manage the condition. For example, when under stress, some people find it more difficult to follow a healthy eating plan, be physically active, get adequate sleep, or even take medications/insulin as prescribed. In extreme situations, some people disengage from their diabetes management altogether, which can be very dangerous. Stress is an inevitable part of life; it can be a result of relationship issues, financial problems, work, death of a loved one, and illness. Coping with diabetes is an additional burden to the stress of daily life.

Diabetes and mental health
Some people with diabetes also experience serious mental health conditions. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions experienced by people with diabetes. These conditions may or may not be related to diabetes, but almost always have a direct or indirect effect on the condition.  For people with diabetes and a mental health condition, it is important to seek the support of a psychologist who understands the complex nature of diabetes, as this will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of the mental health condition. For example, treatment of an eating disorder may be very different for someone with diabetes compared to someone without diabetes. It also helps to talk with someone that understands the unique challenges you face as a person with diabetes and a mental health problem.

Psychological support
Nearly all people with diabetes experience lapses in self-management at some point during the course of their condition. It is usually at this point that people seek out psychological support. However, people with diabetes do not need to get to this point before taking action. Seeing a psychologist, at any point during the course of the condition, can be a useful way to cope with and manage the condition. It may also prevent more serious consequences of stress, such as burnout. People with diabetes and a mental health condition are advised to seek medical/mental health care immediately.

TO SUM UP:

  • Diabetes is a serious lifelong condition that requires daily self-management
  • Stress can have direct and indirect effects on diabetes
  • People with diabetes can also experience serious mental health conditions and should seek psychological treatment immediately
  • It is important to seek support from a psychologist who understands diabetes as this will impact on treatment
  • To answer my first question, “everything”.

To make psychological services more affordable for people with diabetes, I am offering all Diabetes Victoria members 6 bulk-billed sessions under a GP Mental Health Treatment Plan. For more details, enquire within. 

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