People with type 2 diabetes face significant challenges in managing their health, including their mental health. People with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety and disordered eating behaviors, and these mental health conditions can also impact a person’s physical health, leading to worse health outcomes and quality of life.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has launched a new joint initiative with the American Psychological Association (APA): the Mental Health Provider Diabetes Education Program. This program will educate licensed mental health providers about the psychosocial care of people with diabetes and is composed of a seven-hour in-person course and an additional five-hour online course. Upon completion of the program, mental health providers will be qualified to be listed in the ADA’s online Mental Health Provider Referral Directory.
The ADA recommends all people with diabetes receive regular screenings by their physicians for psychosocial challenges, including mental health concerns. Those who need additional support for emotional and mental challenges should be referred to a mental health professional with knowledge and experience with diabetes. However, until now, there have been few mental health providers who have the training on the challenges people with diabetes are facing. The joint effort between the ADA and the APA will increase the number of mental health professionals with diabetes specific mental health care expertise.1
The mental burden of living with diabetes
There’s a term to describe the sense of burden or defeat that many living with diabetes face: diabetes distress. While there is overlap with conditions like depression, anxiety, and stress, diabetes distress is unique to those living with a chronic disease. It is characterized by worry, frustration, concern, and feelings of burnout.
Diabetes distress can affect how a person is thinking and feeling about their treatment, how they interact with healthcare professionals, and how they handle relationships with others. Diabetes distress is also linked to poor health outcomes. People with diabetes distress experience higher blood glucose levels and may be less likely to take medications to lower their blood glucose levels. In addition, receiving those higher blood glucose scores can increase a person’s distress, creating a negative feedback loop that can wear a person down mentally and physically.
Occasional bouts of distress are normal for someone living with a chronic and demanding disease like type 2 diabetes, but when symptoms of overwhelm, depression, or anxiety persist, it’s time to ask for help from a mental health professional.2