how to identify and manage diabetes and depression

Have you experienced the dark cloud that is depression? If you are a human being you are at risk of depression, but if you live with a chronic condition like diabetes, these risks are increased. Research varies but we know that people with diabetes have up to twice the risk of experiencing an episode of depression.

It is easy to think depression is a particular kind of feeling or behaviour because there is a lot more in the media now about looking out for this condition. However it is important that you visit your doctor and seek help from counselling as needed, to determine the best management for you. Sometimes people can be experiencing diabetes related distress and burn out, rather than depression, which requires different management. Sometimes you can experience all of these things at the same time, or one can lead to the other.

Researchers have suggested that depression may be the result of certain chemical changes in the brain that are linked to the regulation of mood. It is thought that people who are living with depression and already have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, may in fact live with depression before they get type 2 diabetes – making depression in itself a risk factor for development of type 2 diabetes.

Depression is also often observed in families, which may mean that genetics may play a part.

Other factors may work together to increase the likelihood of developing depression and include:

  • Having a family history of depression
  • Having depression at least once before in your life
  • Having another mental illness, like bipolar disorder
  • Stress
  • Taking certain medications (like corticosteroids and some drugs prescribed for hypertension)
  • Having a sleeping disorder
  • Social isolation
  • Abusing drugs and alcohol
  • Relationship problems
  • Experiencing the loss of a close friend, family member or partner
  • Other experiences of loss, such as unemployment or relationship breakdown
  • Poor physical health, or a serious or long term illness such as diabetes
  • Some people are at more risk of becoming depressed, such as teenagers and the elderly

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression is easy to misdiagnose because it can present with a wide variety of symptoms that may be general in nature, such as insomnia (being unable to sleep) or fatigue (extreme tiredness).

Different people may present with different symptoms.

Some of the signs of depression may include:

  • Feeling very sad or unhappy, feelings of emptiness
  • Not finding pleasure in anything
  • Withdrawing from friends, colleagues or family
  • Being anxious or always worried
  • Not tending to your responsibilities
  • Having low energy levels
  • Denying depressive feelings
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Becoming easily irritated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty motivating yourself
  • Stomach upsets
  • Headaches, backaches and other complaints that are not normally experienced and have no obvious cause
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Losing interest in activities or people you would usually be involved with
  • Weight loss or gain and/or loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Not paying attention to personal hygiene and appearance as you would do normally
  • Thoughts of suicide

It’s important for you and those close to you to understand that depression can be treated, and that it is often a short-term experience. You can also experience depression on an ongoing basis, or experience episodes of it across your life. Particular phases of your life such as pregnancy and becoming a parent, can put you at more risk of depression. Young people and teenagers going through transitions to growing up can be dealing with an enormous amount of stress and anxiety, which can also put them at risk of depression. Parents caring for children with diabetes can become worn out and exhausted, and can experience depression too.

Men in particular are more likely to focus on the physical symptoms of depression and not the feelings or emotions that come with it. Treating the physical symptoms and not looking at the reasons for depression can be ineffective and may lead to years of misery and more complicated health issues.

Recognising and acknowledging that you may be suffering from depression is an important first step in moving through and managing depression, and living a happier life.

Getting help for depression and diabetes 

Firstly remember you are not alone and that many people with diabetes have experienced depression. Reach out to other people who understand life with diabetes. You can join our wonderful community here.

There are plenty of opportunities to get help if you think you may suffer from depression or if you are close to someone who has depression. If you have diabetes and depression it is important you speak with someone who understands both of these conditions.

Here are some places to get started:

  • Your doctor – your GP is always the best place to start. Have a good chat with them and be honest about your feelings and symptoms and when they started. If necessary they can refer you to a specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist with a mental health plan to cover some of your costs.
  • Beyondblue, the national depression initiative, can help with the depression side of things and can be contacted on 1300 224 636.
  • Mensline Australia offers 24-hour, anonymous support for men with family and relationship problems especially around family breakdown or separation. They can be contacted on 1300 789 978.
  • Lifeline offers 24-hour counselling, information and referral. Call them on 13 11 14.
  • Lifeline’s Just Ask offers help for people who live in rural areas and can be called on 1300 13 11 14.

Remember that depression, just like diabetes, can be managed and in many cases, you can recover from depression. Make the most of your life and seek help if you think you may be experiencing a problem with your diabetes or your wellbeing.