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Diabetes and depression: a helpful guide to know what to do next

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

Diabetes and depression

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 like 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. Take a look at diabetic psychologist Daniel Sher in this video that look specifically at mental health and diabetes.

What is depression?

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.

Six symptoms of depression

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

  1. A loss of appetite or any change in eating habits
  2. Feeling down all the time
  3. Any change in sleeping pattern
  4. Lack of energy
  5. Loss of interest in daily tasks that you used to enjoy
  6. 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.

The hormones that cause depression

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”. This video from the World Health Organisation shows how depression can feel every day – like carrying a black dog around.

Diabetes and depression symptoms

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. Here’s all about 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? Ask for help. From a therapist or psychologist or counsellor, from family or friends. You are not alone in this. It’s also helpful to find ways to relax and remember to listen to our bodies. We’re all in this together – join Diabetic South Africans to meet others who are facing the same challenges.

What to read next?

Diabetes and mental health: a video: We ask diabetic psychologist Daniel Sher to answer all your questions about diabetes and depression.

What is diabetes burnout? Understanding diabetes burnout – what it feels like and what to do about it if you have burnout.

10 ways to relax (phew!) A few fun reminders of things you can do to relax if you’re feeling stressed or depressed.

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4 Comments

  1. […] Diabetes and depression are also quite common, so it helps to be aware of that possibility. Burnout is also something to be aware of – sometimes it just feels too exhausting to have to deal with all the tiny details every day. That’s perfectly normal! Dealing with a diagnosis is a challenge all on its own… Remember that you’re not alone, and we’ve all been through this. Although it seems like you’ll never figure it all out, it does get easier with every passing year. […]

  2. […] Isifo seswekile kunye noxinzelelo lwengqondo nazo zixhaphakile, ngako ke kuyanceda ukwazi ngokunokwenzeka. Ukudinwa komzimba yinto ekumele wazi ngayo – ngamanye amaxesha ivakala idinisa into yokujongana nazo zonke ezi zinto zincinci yonke imihla. Kulungile!   Ukujongana nokufunyaniswa unesifo seswekile  kungumceli mngeni kukodwa. ….. Khumbula ukuba awuwedwa,sonke sisuka apho. Nangona kubonakala ngathi akusoze uyiqondisise, ibalula ngokuhamba kweminyaka. […]

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.