How Diabetes Increases Your Risk for Depression (And Vice Versa)

How Diabetes Increases Your Risk for Depression (And Vice Versa)

It is enough of a challenge to manage either diabetes or depression on its own. Both diseases can monopolize your attention and reduce the quality and length of your life. A US Department of Veteran Affairs study found depression might reduce life expectancy by five years. For diabetes, that number could be as high as eight and a half years.

In an ideal world, each person would have to deal with only one (or, ideally, neither) of these issues. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common for these conditions to occur simultaneously.

A person with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes is at higher risk for depression, and a person with depression is at a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. That isn’t to say if you have one, you’ll inevitably be diagnosed with the other. It just means you need to keep your eyes peeled for any new symptoms should they arise.

What Does Depression Look Like?

Diabetes awareness has increased in recent years. Because of this, you might already know Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune attack on the pancreas and subsequent lack of insulin, whereas Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance and reduced insulin production. You or a loved one may even be one of the 30.3 million people living with diabetes in the US.

Information about depression is often less readily available and harder to track. Many people experience undiagnosed depression, as it can vary in severity and is harder to quantify and test for. It’s likely that many people who are depressed – an estimated 20 million in the US alone – won’t be motivated enough to seek treatment or testing. Perhaps the reluctance to talk about depression stems from the erroneous idea that mental health disorders are less serious or more taboo than “physical” ailments. It could also be that people who have depression feel embarrassed to share thoughts of self-harm, self-doubt and negative self-esteem with others.

Depression is much more than the occasional cry or down-in-the-dumps feeling. To receive a diagnosis of depression, a patient must exhibit a combination of specific symptoms that last for at least two weeks. Potential symptoms include:

  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Sleeping all the time or inability to fall and stay asleep
  • Lethargy even when awake
  • Anxiety, nervousness and restlessness
  • Sadness upon waking in the morning
  • Apathy or loss of interest in things you once loved
  • Persistent feelings of guilt
  • Assuming you are a burden to the people in your life
  • Intrusive thoughts about death or plans to die by suicide

Blood sugar spikes and drops can cause symptoms that mimic those of depression, so be sure to visit a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

How Diabetes and Depression Play Off Each Other

As you can see from the symptoms above, depression affects every aspect of life. If severe, it can be nearly impossible to motivate oneself to get out of bed and take care of daily tasks, let alone manage diabetes! Taking medicine, monitoring blood glucose levels and watching food intake can easily feel like an unmanageable full-time job with depression weighing you down.

Besides being listless, people with depression are also more likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, eat poorly and skip regular exercise. These coping mechanisms and harmful habits make diabetes symptoms much, much worse because they elevate blood sugar and cause weight gain.

The effects also work the other way. People with diabetes may feel stressed, helpless or hopeless in the face of their medical condition. If unmanaged, these emotions could lead to isolation and depression down the road. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage and lead to severe complications like stroke and heart disease. These conditions can fuel the onset of depression, especially if the person has another mental health disorder, a genetic predisposition to depression or a previous depression diagnosis.

What You Can Do

You may have realized you meet some or all of the criteria for depression as well as diabetes. Know that depression can lurk in the background of your life for weeks, months or years even if you try to ignore it. If you get help, your depression symptoms will be much more manageable, and you may even experience better health overall.

The following treatments can relieve symptoms of depression:

  • Ruling out physical causes – Sometimes depression is brought on by hormone fluctuations, thyroid problems or other physical conditions. Your doctor may prescribe a medication that addresses the root of the problem, rather than one for mental health.
  • Psychotherapy – A far cry from the shrewd shrinks of Hollywood fantasy, therapists in real life are there to help you take control of your feelings and behavior. During cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, they may ask you questions about your depression, teach you how to reduce uncomfortable symptoms and develop an action plan so you can meet your goals.
  • Medication – A psychiatrist, endocrinologist or primary care physician can prescribe you an antidepressant to ease depression symptoms. Like any other medication, antidepressants can cause unwanted and severe side effects, so you should discuss that possibility with your doctor. Be aware that some antidepressants may contribute to poor glycemic control.

You should also continue your regular diabetes care and consider seeking additional guidance to manage both problems at once. The sooner you choose to take control of your health, the better your life will be!

Learn to Manage Diabetes and Depression with St. Hope Foundation

If you are a diabetes patient in the Houston area, St. Hope Foundation would like to provide you with quality, holistic care. We offer a variety of diabetes care services, including diabetes testing, behavioral health and depression counseling, nutrition and diet assistance and more.
When you come to St. Hope, you will be paired with the same physician every visit to ensure you receive in-depth, personalized treatment. Your physician can also enlist the help of our highly qualified nutritionists, opticians and podiatrists if you need a team approach to manage your condition. Call us at 713-778-1300 to schedule your appointment today!

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Rodney Goodie is founder and chief executive officer of St. Hope Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to medical care, pharmacy, clinical research and dental care.

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