Patients with diabetes may face psychological issues surrounding their diabetes. They encounter much more than the physical symptoms and impact of their condition on their health and wellbeing. When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, a carefully tailored treatment plan based on a standard protocol is crafted for each patient. The standard protocol for treating diabetes does not always include the psychological health of the person or his/her quality of life. Physical symptoms can be and often are well managed in patients who have diabetes. A person’s psychological equilibrium, on the other hand, might not receive the level of care and attention that is truly warranted.
Management of the physical symptoms of diabetes can arguably become a matter or routine after a while. There are specific actions and interventions that are utilized to correct blood sugar levels, for example. The human psyche does not fare quite so well in terms of knowing just what to do for patients’ emotional reactions. Although physical symptoms might be stabilized and held in check, some of the changes required by patients in order to accommodate an illness can cause feelings of loss, hopelessness, and helplessness. Living with diabetes is a learning process that includes concrete changes that must be made by the patient. Even though their diabetes might be managed, the methods used might feel restrictive and burdensome, and keep patients from engaging in certain behaviors that might have been a regular part of their lives (Kneck, Klang, and Fagerberg, 2011). That sense of loss and mourning over what they no longer have or can no longer do is not surprisingly a fertile breeding ground, one in which depression is likely to develop. Uncertainty about the future can also lead to increased stress and anxiety.
It is important for patients to report the emergence of such feelings to their doctors. It is also incumbent on medical practitioners to understand, or at least get a sense of, the mindset that these patients might be in, beyond the key symptoms and aspects that are strictly associated with diabetes. The psychological symptoms that can develop due to living with diabetes and other illnesses do not have to be stoically endured in silence. There are a variety of approaches available to patients with diabetes that serve help them to gain, maintain, and enjoy a significant quality of life, despite their physical symptoms. Issues around food, what can and cannot be eaten, hold the potential for the development of eating disorders. Addressing the emotional and quality of life issues can often be major factors in determining how well patients subsequently engage in self-care (Pouwer, Beekman, Luback, & Snoek, 2006).
Benefit can be obtained from individual and/or group psychotherapy, which offers a variety of treatment theories. Use of antidepressant medications and, when indicated, anti-anxiety medications have reported provided benefit to patients coping with the management of diabetes. Moreover, family support and counseling can often serve to strengthen the network of people most closely involved with patients.
Kneck, A., Klang, B., and Fagerberg, I. (2011). Learning to live with illness: experiences of persons with recent diagnoses of diabetes mellitus. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences; 25: 558-566.
Pouwer, F., Beekman, A., Luback, C., & Snoek, F. (2006). Nurses’ recognition and registration of depression, anxiety and diabetes-specific emotional problems in outpatients with diabetes mellitus. Patient Education and Counseling 60; 235–240.