What's the Connection Between Diabetes and Depression?
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, research has shown that you are at an increased risk of developing depression. Similarly, if you have depression, you may be at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. While it can be frustrating to deal with diabetes and depression, they can be effectively managed.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which your body is either unable to produce insulin, or cannot properly use the insulin that it produces. The role of insulin in the body is to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood, which allows the body to function properly.
There are three major types of diabetes:
This is an autoimmune disease whereby the body is unable to produce its own insulin because the body is mistakenly attacking the pancreas (the organ responsible for insulin production). Typically, type 1 diabetes develops during childhood or adolescent years, but can develop in adulthood. About 10% of people living with diabetes have type 1. Individuals with type 1 need to inject insulin or use an insulin pump to manage insulin levels in the body.
People with type 2 diabetes are unable to use the insulin made by the pancreas, or they are not able to make enough insulin. Typically, type 2 diabetes develops in adulthood, although it can occur during childhood. About 90% of people living with diabetes have type 2. Individuals with type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with diet and lifestyle changes, but often require medication and/or insulin to manage their disease.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and is typically temporary, resolving after pregnancy.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Excessive thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Changes in weight (weight gain or loss).
- Extreme lack of energy.
- Blurred vision.
- Recurring or frequent infections.
- Slow healing of cuts and bruises.
- Numbness and/or tingling in the hands or feet.
- Difficulty getting and/or maintaining an erection.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA): nausea and/or vomiting, stomach pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, fruity-scented breath, confusion.
Some people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms and are diagnosed during a routine blood test. If you have symptoms of diabetes, it is important to speak to your doctor.
If diabetes is left untreated it can lead to serious complications including:
- Eye damage.
- Kidney damage.
- High blood pressure.
- Heart disease and stroke.
- Nerve damage and amputation.
- Mental health issues, including depression.
What is Depression?
Depression is a common condition that negatively affects the way you feel, the way you think and even how you act. Depression can interfere with your ability to function at home and at work and can negatively affect your personal and professional relationships.
While depression often causes symptoms including sadness and hopelessness, it can also involve:
- Loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed.
- Appetite changes – may include decreased appetite or binge eating.
- Weight loss or weight gain that is not related to dieting.
- Sleep difficulties – may be a lack of sleep or too much sleep.
- Decreased energy.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
- Feeling anxious or nervous.
- Feeling alone or isolated.
- Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions.
- Thoughts of suicide or death.
It’s important to keep in mind that poor management of your diabetes can lead to symptoms that mimic depression. If you experience symptoms for at least two weeks that are different from your previous level of functioning, you may be suffering with depression and should speak with your doctor.
The Link Between Diabetes and Depression
The link between diabetes and depression remains unknown, however, there are various theories as to how the two are connected including:
- Diabetes metabolic effect on proper brain functioning including alteration in brain chemistry.
- Managing diabetes can be incredibly stressful and may lead to symptoms of depression.
- The complications and associated health issues that are associated with diabetes can worsen symptoms of depression.
- Individuals suffering with depression may make unhealthy lifestyle choices including poor eating and exercising habits, which may lead to weight gain and smoking. All of these are risk factors for developing diabetes.
- Individuals suffering with depression often have an impaired ability to perform tasks, think clearly and communicate effectively. These symptoms can impair your ability to manage diabetes appropriately and may lead to an increased risk of diabetes-associated complications.
Treatment Options for People With Diabetes and Depression
There are various treatment options for managing diabetes and depression including:
These self-management programs focus on behavior to help improve metabolic control, increase physical activity, manage weight loss and improve cardiovascular disease risk factors. Additionally, these programs help to increase self-esteem and quality of life.
In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy helps to improve symptoms of depression, which in turns improves diabetes control. The goals of psychotherapy are to recognize triggers, identify and change unhealthy behaviors, develop positive relationships and promote healthy problem-solving skills.
Medication, Combined With Exercise
Diabetes and depression can be better managed by combining traditional medicinal therapies, including antidepressant medications, with regular exercise.
Simple changes, including eating a healthy, balanced diet, maintaining good sleep hygiene, identifying and managing stressors and seeking support from friends and family can help to better manage symptoms of both diabetes and depression.
If you suffer with diabetes, it is important to be aware of signs and symptoms of depression, including prolonged feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in things you once enjoyed and unexplained health issues, such as extreme fatigue and anxiousness. If you think you might be suffering from depression it is important to speak to your healthcare provider as they can get you the right treatment to improve your mental and physical health and enhance your quality of life.