depression

Diabetes and depression

Gabi Richter is a diabetic counsellor on our Panel of Experts. Today, she speaks to us about depression and diabetes.


Managing everyday life challenges can be hard for the strongest and most emotionally balanced people. But having diabetes changes the game and adds extra curve balls we need to deal with. Depression is a very common problem, but studies show that people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes are three time more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. With the constant management plan we have to follow, it’s no surprise that we are at greater risk for depression and anxiety.

Anxiety and depression can overlap with symptoms of diabetes, which make it harder to diagnose whether it is simply anxiety or rather depression that you are feeling. Anxiety can lead to depression if not treated correctly, but depression rarely leads to anxiety. Depression also has fewer symptoms, making it harder to diagnose.

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which affects how you think and feel, and it can manifest in both emotional and physical symptoms. The thing to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression without fully feeling depressed, and if you are depressed it’s not easy to simply snap out of it.

There are six main symptoms to look out for when dealing with depression:

  • A loss of appetite or any change in eating habits
  • Feeling down all the time
  • Any change in sleeping pattern
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in daily tasks that you used to enjoy
  • Feeling irritable all the time.

These symptoms are very similar to anxiety, however the main difference is that when you are anxious you worry more about the future and current things that have either happened or could happen. When you feel depressed, you simply have no drive to do anything and can only see things from a negative space.

To understand more about depression, it’s helpful to know what’s happening in your body. Your mood is determined by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are released into the brain. When these levels are low, we start to experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Depression can feel a bit like anxiety and that is why it is often overlooked. A constant state of anxiety can show up in ways that make you feel physically sick, such as constant headaches, dry mouth, upset stomach and nausea.

To suffer from depression or to feel depressed does not mean that you are weak. Many people suffer from depression: it is an ancient disease that affects thousands of people, even famous people such as Winston Churchill. He used to call it his “black dog”.

As diabetics, we often have weaker metabolic and glycaemic control. This in turn can intensify depression symptoms: if not treated correctly, it can lead to diabetes burnout. We need to remember that when we experience depression or anxiety, the body reacts the same way it does to stress. The fight, flight, fright response is activated which releases adrenalin and cortisol into the blood stream, which in turn increases our sugar levels. There are many levels of depression ranging from mild to major: the levels don’t get worse, it’s simply the consequences and symptoms that change.

Depression affects everyone and people suffering from chronic conditions are at a higher risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. One of the most important things to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression and not look depressed. The symptoms for depression do not always manifest in the known ways: it is also linked to aches and pains in muscles or constant headaches.

So what’s the answer? We need to find ways to relax as much as we can and remember to listen to our bodies. You are not alone in this.

How to help a friend with diabetes

I would like to know to help and support a friend who has diabetes. My friend is a Type 1 diabetic and I’m not always sure how to help him in the tough times.” Markus Vorster

Hi Markus,

You have not said how old your friend is, but much of the basics stay the same. Here are 7 ways to support your friend with diabetes.

  1. First of all, treat your friend like anyone else. It is important for him to realise that his diabetes makes absolutely no difference to your friendship. If your friend is having trouble accepting his condition, be supportive and understanding.
  2. Try not to ‘mother’ him, but do encourage him to look after himself.
  3. Understand that people with diabetes are more prone to mood swings and depression than those who do not have diabetes.
  4. Learn to be able to recognise when his blood sugar goes too low, and know what to do in case he needs help.
  5. Remember, really tough times for diabetics are when they are sick. Blood glucose levels bounce up and down and this makes them feel more ill.
  6. Give him all your support by understanding his condition to the best of your ability.
  7. Get the facts and go beyond the myths and misinformation by talking to your friend, your doctor, or relatives who have diabetes.

As a friend, your understanding and acceptance are very important. The more you understand his circumstances, the less alone your friend is likely to feel.

Empathise, but never sympathise.

Good luck!

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Teens with Type 1

Teenagers with Type 1 diabetes feel especially isolated and alone. It’s bad enough dealing with body changes and hormonal issues, but add to that testing blood sugar, keeping tabs on what you eat and injecting yourself, as well as mood swings, and you can see why teens with Type 1 have a lot to deal with. Understanding what goes into diabetes means you can help your teen feel less self-conscious and different from everyone else.

Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash