Navigating Depression: Brain Chemistry And Coping Strategies

By Tanisha Herrin

Updated June 28, 2019

Research has shown potential connections between diabetes and depression. While studies are ongoing, experts are learning more about how they affect each other including how one may increase risks of diagnosis of the other. Many medical professionals believe the risk is higher for people with diabetes to experience depression than the other way around. Because both situations affect the body in similar ways, it is possible for people with clinical depression to develop diabetes or experience further complications managing their symptoms. Here is an overview of each condition including risk factors, possible ways they are connected, and suggestions for coping with both.

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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is defined as a disorder or condition in the body that affects how food is turned into energy. The food you eat helps the body produce natural sugar or glucose. The glucose is fuel for the body and it passes through the bloodstream. Our bodies produce a hormone known as insulin from the pancreas and it helps the body regulate the production of glucose. It helps the body turn glucose into cells that become energy. When the body doesn't produce enough insulin, it loses energy due to glucose buildup in the blood. How this happens in the body varies depending on a few factors that help define which type of diabetes is occurring.

Type 1 diabetes is common among young adults and children. While anyone may have this form of diabetes it is common among Caucasians. Insulin cells produced in the body are destroyed by the immune system. People with this condition need insulin injections or use an insulin pump daily. Genetics and the environment may play a role in how this type of diabetes develops in the body, but research is ongoing to learn why this occurs. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include extreme fatigue, frequent urination, increased thirst, weight loss, constant hunger, and blurred vision. A person may go into a coma if they are not treated with insulin and their glucose levels get too low.

Type 2 diabetes is common among people in their 40s or older and obesity. It is common among minority groups and various ethnic backgrounds with cases increasing around the world. People with type 2 may also have high blood pressure and resistance to insulin. Some may not process insulin properly or the production of it decreases. Symptoms are similar to type 1 diabetes but also include nausea, risk of urinary infections, and slow healing of bruises, sores, and wounds.

Sometimes type 2 diabetes is present without symptoms so a person may have it and not know it. If you suspect you may have diabetes or you are experiencing related symptoms, talk to your doctor. Diabetes is determined through a blood test to check glucose levels. A new diagnosis may raise questions about how to deal with the condition and how things in life will change. Some get overwhelmed and full of anxiety, increasing the chances of getting depressed.

Recognizing Depression Symptoms

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Diabetes may increase the risk of depression symptoms. While managing blood sugar levels is important, it may bring frustration because it requires time and attention. Some may experience depression but not realize they have symptoms. If sadness is something you're experiencing, check for the following symptoms:

  • Having no pleasure to do activities you enjoyed.
  • Trouble sleeping at night or want to sleep more during the day.
  • Waking up early and not able to go back to sleep.
  • Changes in weight such as losing or gaining too much in a short time period.
  • Lack of ability to concentration due to feelings or thoughts getting in the way.
  • Feelings of anxiety or being so anxious due to nervousness
  • Feeling guilty while worrying your burden to others or you're not doing things right.
  • Feeling sad first thing in the morning; you feel at your worst in the morning more than any other part of the day.
  • Thoughts of self-harm or taking your life (suicide).

If these symptoms persist for two weeks or more seek help. Sometimes depression is related to life events such as a death, unexpected event, job loss, or divorce. Having low self-esteem, lack of social support and a family history of depression may also increase risks. With diabetes, depression symptoms should not be ignored and there are things you can do and people you can trust to help you successfully manage both conditions.

Understanding the Diabetes and Depression Connection

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Studies suggest people with diabetes are at risk for developing depression. People with depression have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. How they are related is unclear, but there are indications that they affect the body in similar ways based on how the body responds to stress. Controlling diabetes may be stressful leading to depression symptoms. If not properly managed, diabetes may lead to other health complications including making symptoms of depression worse.

Symptoms of depression alone may lead to poor lifestyle choices such as unhealthy eating habits, weight gain, smoking, and lack of exercise, which are also risk factors for developing diabetes. Because depression may affect your ability to concentrate and communicate clearly, it may affect your ability to effectively manage diabetes.

Some experiencing symptoms of both may refer to their situation as diabetic depression. Studies suggest both conditions may share similarities biologically and behaviorally. Elevated stress hormones may be to blame for people with depression that later develop diabetes. The same hormones affect how the body regulates its blood sugar levels and for some, resistance to insulin. These same elements also contribute to belly fat. Another element the body deals with is inflammation. It helps the body fight infections, but with depression and diabetes, chronic inflammation may be persistent leading to related symptoms of both conditions.

Diabetes requires a significant amount of self-care. People with depression may struggle taking care of themselves when they don't feel like doing anything. Some suggest each condition may be part of an ongoing cycle since both may have negative consequences when left untreated. Others feel diabetes has more of an emotional side that should be addressed and encouraged more by doctors so that patients will feel better opening up about their feelings while coping.

How to Help Yourself Cope with Both

If you feel depressed, share your feelings with someone instead of keeping them to yourself. It may be overwhelming to deal with diabetes but you're not alone. Managing your diabetes includes having good mental health to help you make the best decisions for your overall wellbeing. If you're not caring for yourself properly with diabetes, your diabetic symptoms may look like depression. For example, if you feel anxious or tired it may be from low or high blood glucose. Your blood sugar levels may affect your energy and how you sleep. Here are a few tips to help yourself stay in control of your symptoms:

  • Learn physical causes of depression and what to avoid. Some may not be recommended for people with diabetes but they could also be a factor with fluctuating blood sugar levels. These things may include substance abuse (drugs or alcohol), certain medications, and thyroid issues. If you have concerns about medication, talk to your doctor before you stop taking it.
  • Explore options for mental health treatment. If you think depression is a problem, learn about working with a specialist. There are many types to consider and they provide supportive tools and guidance for people with diabetes. Options may include psychotherapy, counseling, antidepressant medications, group sessions, and more. A combination of these options has helped many do well.
  • Review programs for diabetes self-care. There are self-management programs to help people focus on their diabetic needs including assessing fitness levels, controlling metabolism, and managing your weight. These programs may help you learn if you're at risk for developing other health concerns such as heart disease. Effective options help people improve their lifestyles and well-being.

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  • Understand the side effects of medications. Some may affect blood sugar levels depending on dosage and reason for prescribing. Make sure your doctor or specialist knows about medicines you're taking if prescribed by another doctor. Don't stop taking your medication until you talk with your doctor.
  • Make changes to your lifestyle. Assess your daily habits and set goals for what you want to improve. Set a schedule to help with routine actions such as taking medication, therapy and exercising. Make an effort to eat better by learning about foods recommended for both conditions. Avoid stressful situations and learn productive ways to deal with stress and anxiety.

Upon learning a diabetes diagnosis, it may be overwhelming understanding how it affects your body and how to handle changes that will affect daily living. Managing depression symptoms is important whether or not you have diabetes. Controlling symptoms of depression will make it easier to cope with or reduce the risk of diabetes. Few have been able to reverse their diabetes with good self-care methods, support from family and friends, and guidance from their doctor or specialist. Taking productive action such as participating in support groups, regular exercise, medication, and therapy are effective ways to cope with depression.


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