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Diabetes: Closing the Gap Between Physical and Mental Health

Diabetes affects one in ten people worldwide and is one of the most difficult long-term conditions to manage. Many people who do not have diabetes think it is a matter of changing their diet, taking insulin, and moving on. This is a myth. Managing diabetes is complicated, it takes education, as well as mastering many different skills to control it well. Skills include coping, time management, planning, problem-solving and many lifestyle changes (Cardol et al, 2021).

Some people find it difficult to cope with the many changes they need to make to their lives, or can become overwhelmed or burnt out over time. The changes in life and lifestyle that come with a diabetes diagnosis can lead to distress, anxiety, and depression (Winkley, et al,. 2020). These mental health difficulties can in turn make it harder for people with diabetes to look after themselves, make healthy lifestyle choices, and live well (de Wit, Trief, Huber, & Willaing., 2020). Psychological distress and common mental health difficulties are known to affect energy levels, self-control, memory, motivation, optimism, and isolation (Cardol et al., 2021).

Physical and mental health are not separate. Looking after your physical health can improve your mental health and vice versa.

This can seem frightening when dealing with a chronic condition, but what it means is that it is a two-for-one special! Looking after one's physical health- learning about diabetes and understanding how best to manage it- allows people to take control of their situation. This reduces anxiety and the risk of long-term problems at the same time.

Exercise is recommended to control glucose levels in the blood (Understanding diabetes | World Diabetes Day, 2022). However, it also improves energy levels and increases motivation, making it easier to carry out tasks or engage in hobbies. Exercising in any form for thirty minutes, five days a week helps with blood glucose levels while also releasing happy hormones, which improve mood (Zhang, & Chen, 2019). This is why exercise is one of the best things that can be done to combat depression.

Looking after your mental health works in the same way. Our thoughts are less critical and negative when in a good mental space. When we are less self-critical, we can better recognise which actions are good for our wellbeing and which ones are not helpful. Our thoughts can impact what we do or do not do to look after our health. Some can motivate, and some can get in the way (Massey, et al., 2019).

For example, if you were experiencing low mood and stuck in a thought spiral that keeps thinking, "it's too late. Nothing I do will make a difference to my health," would you be more or less motivated to try and make lifestyle changes to look after your health? It can be better in these instances to ask yourself if this thought is helpful or unhelpful. Keeping blood glucose, blood pressure and blood fat levels as close to normal as possible can reduce the risk of long-term diabetes complications (Understanding diabetes | World Diabetes Day, 2022). This is possible for everybody with diabetes, but self-care and management are fundamental to its success.

Taking care of your physical and mental health is a key step toward managing diabetes and enjoying a happy, healthy life.

The Low Mood & Anxiety for Diabetes programme offered by SilverCloud® by Amwell® is a programme designed for people with diabetes who have anxiety and depression. It uses self-help strategies and evidence-based mental health support to improve psychological wellbeing. As mentioned addressing an individual’s mental health difficulty can help people in all other aspects of their health and wellbeing.

World Diabetes Day 2023

World Diabetes Day takes place every year on the 14th of November and it is a way to educate people on possible signs and symptoms of diabetes, raise awareness of the challenges people living with diabetes face and to educate people on best self-management practices.  Established in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and WHO in response to growing concerns about the health and economic threat posed by diabetes, World Diabetes Day became an official UN day in 2006.



Cardol, C. K., Tommel, J., van Middendorp, H., Ciere, Y., Sont, J. K., Evers, A. W. M., & van Dijk, S. (2021). Detecting and Treating Psychosocial and Lifestyle-Related Difficulties in Chronic Disease: Development and Treatment Protocol  of the E-GOAL eHealth Care Pathway. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health18(6),  3292. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18063292

de Wit, M., Trief, P. M., Huber, J. W., & Willaing, I. (2020). State of the art: understanding and integration of the social  context in diabetes care. Diabetic Medicine37(3), 473-482.

Massey, C. N., Feig, E. H., Duque-Serrano, L., Wexler, D., Moskowitz, J. T., & Huffman, J. C. (2019). Wellbeing interventions for individuals with diabetes: A systematic review. Diabetes research and clinical practice147, 118–  133. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30500545/.

Understanding diabetes | World Diabetes Day. (2022). Retrieved 18 October 2022, from   https://worlddiabetesday.org/about/understandingdiabetes/

Winkley, K., Upsher, R., Stahl, D., Pollard, D., Brennan, A., Heller, S., & Ismail, K. (2020). Systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials of psychological interventions to improve glycaemic control in children   and adults with type 1 diabetes. Diabetic Medicine37(5), 735-746.

Zhang, Z., & Chen, W. (2019). A systematic review of the relationship between physical activity and happiness. Journal of  happiness studies20(4), 1305-1322.

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