Are you going through rough patches where you feel you have little to smile about? While it’s normal to suffer low moods at times, chronic gloom, teariness or exhaustion that interferes with your daily life can be signs that you need support. According to Dr Lisa Engel, a health psychologist who specialises in diabetes at Melbourne’s Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, having diabetes doubles your chances of developing depression. That’s because the daily grind of managing diabetes – blood glucose levels, diet, medication – plus hormonal changes can take a toll on your mental wellbeing. With that in mind, admitting that you’re feeling down is not a sign of weakness. By asking for help from your GP, counsellor or care team, you are taking an important step that will help you find your happy place, again. Here, three people share their stories about overcoming depression, while the experts offer mood-boosting strategies.
1. HELENA'S STORY
"I blamed myself when I got my type 2 diagnosis 10 years ago," says Helena Taylor, 53. "My grandfather, mother, aunty and brother all have diabetes. I was a size 18 and my doctor had been warning me for years to exercise more and lose weight. For a year, I spiralled into major depression and, one night when the kids were away at their dad’s, I felt suicidal. Thankfully, my sister called and could hear I was a mess. She came over immediately and the next day she took me to a doctor, who put me on antidepressants. My sister then moved in, helped me cook and became my exercise buddy. This practical help made me feel far less overwhelmed and I got my life back on track – I only wish I’d reached out earlier.
‘I’m now a size 14 and I’m much happier and have more energy. I make it a priority to spend more time with my family and friends. I also feel less alone and have more fun."
THE EXPERTS SAY... "After a diabetes diagnosis, most people experience shock and disbelief, then grief and loss, as they adjust to the reality that their future is deviating from what they planned and hoped for," says Dr Stephen Carbone of beyondblue, an organisation that supports people with anxiety and depression. "People with type 2 diabetes often feel stigmatised as well," adds Dr Engel. "They worry that others judge them for their diabetes, even though there are factors beyond weight, diet and exercise that also contribute to type 2." To help deal with mixed emotions, schedule pleasurable activities into your day.Go for a walk at sunset. Catch up with friends. Enjoy a candlelit bath. This provides an instant mood boost and ensures you have something to look forward to. And don't forget the benefits of regular exercise."Physical exercise can be equal to antidepressants in helping you reduce mild depression," says Dr Carbone. Whether you dance, walk, play tennis or hit the gym, the important thing is that you move every day.
2. TIM'S STORY:
"Depression, anxiety and mood swings due to high and low blood glucose levels are the black dog of diabetes," says Tim Flakelar, 67, who was diagnosed with type 1 at 17. "My biggest period of mild depression occurred at 25 when I felt overwhelmed coping with my first year of university as well as diabetes management. I became anxious, but I turned to playing R&B music, which really helped calm me down. I still get angry sometimes when my blood glucose swings high through no fault of my own or go low through a miscalculation of my carbs. The unpredictability of diabetes can cause anxiety, frustration and fear, and these feelings can wear you down. That’s why exercise is a must. It helps stimulate brain chemicals that keep you feeling well and makes the cells of your body more sensitive to insulin. It can also be good to do something physical like hitting a ball or using a punching bag, to let out some of your frustrations."
THE EXPERTS SAY... "When you’ve had diabetes for many years, the self-management responsibilities can sometimes feel oppressive or overwhelming and your mood may suffer," says Dr Carbone. Try considering the big picture. "View setbacks, such as an elevated blood sugar reading, as temporary rather than permanent," suggests Dr Carbone. Be as kind and supportive to yourself as you would be to a friend or loved one who has diabetes. And talk about your feelings. Debrief with family or friends, or seek help from a counsellor to find strategies to cope with a chronic condition.
3. DINAAZ'S STORY:
"When my now 17-year-old son, Kevin, was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 11, he was so ill he had to be hospitalised," recalls Dinaaz Lentin, 56. "It was incredibly stressful and I was worried and exhausted from loss of sleep from having to check his blood glucose levels overnight. But at least I was in charge and knew that he was okay. Now that he’s a teenager, I often feel anxious because I don’t know whether he’s taking lifestyle risks. At one point, I discovered that he was keeping his insulin levels high to ensure he didn’t have a hypo in front of his friends – this could have caused damage to his vital organs in the long term. A few years ago, I received good advice from a diabetes educator. She said that instead of being in conflict with my son, I should let him get some of those teenager activities out of his system. So, I’ve tried to put the focus on minimising harm. If he wants to do something like eat high-carb junk food, I ensure he adjusts his insulin and does a reading before and a couple of hours after eating. When you have a child with diabetes you feel like the enemy, but you’re only acting out of love and concern. Instead of showing anger, which I sometimes used to do, I now walk away until I feel calmer and that’s been far better for my emotional health."
THE EXPERTS SAY... "When a teenager with diabetes starts wanting more independence, they may not always make the best choices and the concern and loss of control can be very stressful for parents," says Dr Carbone. "It’s important to try to minimise conflict, so that you keep the lines of communication open." He suggests you rethink your expectations. "Ask your child to do the best they can today," advises Dr Carbone. "If you expect perfection, you will end up disappointed and that will only increase conflict." And ensure that other family members, including your teenager and your partner, also stay on top of the management plan. This way, you don’t feel all the pressure is on your shoulders, and you’re helping your child achieve independence at the same time.
By Stephanie Osfield