Everyone feels sad or down from time to time. It’s a normal part of life. But if you have long periods of sadness, anxiety and hopelessness, this could mean you have depression.
If you have diabetes, you are more at risk of developing depression. Diabetes can be exhausting and overwhelming. This can cause long periods of feeling low.
As many as 40% of people with diabetes said they have struggled with their psychological wellbeing since being diagnosed. We know diabetes and depression can be really difficult. But remember that you are not alone. We've got lots of information to help you cope during this time.
The links between diabetes and depression
Depression and diabetes share some symptoms. Being tired and sleeping a lot, and having difficulty concentrating can happen when you have either condition. This can make it difficult to know whether your symptoms are being caused by depression or your diabetes, or both.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to have depression
Does diabetes cause depression?
Diabetes doesn't directly cause depression but the nature of diabetes can be a factor in developing it. It’s a very tough condition to deal with as it’s always present, and that can be exhausting, particularly with all the extra decisions you have to make on top of every day life.
If you have depression before you have diabetes, it can make your depression worse.
Does depression cause diabetes?
Previous research has shown that people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more likely to experience depression compared to those without diabetes and that people living with depression have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But a Diabetes UK funded study has revealed that depression can play a direct role in increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The research findings highlighted the effects of depression on increased body mass index (BMI) and said that this partly, but not completely, explained the relationship between depression and diabetes. The research also pinpointed seven genetic changes that can lead to both depression and diabetes. The shared genes play a role in how insulin is produced or can cause inflammation in the brain, pancreas or fat tissue.
These changes in the body show how depression could possibly increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. The relationship between depression and type 2 diabetes is complex but this study provides some fresh insights. You can find out your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by using our know your risk tool, or you can speak to a health care professional, you can also contact the diabetes UK Helpline for advice and guidance.
While research has also shown people with type 1 diabetes may also be more likely to experience depression, depression is not a risk factor for developing type 1 diabetes as it is an autoimmune condition.
Depression is a serious mental health condition. It can affect anyone, regardless of culture, background and family history. It causes you to feel bad about yourself, your life and your relationships.
If you experience one or more of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, then talk to your healthcare professional. Depression can affect diabetes. A few symptoms of depression can have a direct impact on your diabetes management, such as:
- Not wanting to do anything or see anyone. You might not manage your diabetes properly. This may mean not taking your medication or checking your blood sugars, missing your doctor appointments or ignoring other health problems. All of these could lead to complications.
- Feeling down often and for long periods of time.
- Waking up a lot at night, or not being able to get out of bed.
- Feeling tired more often than not. This could stop you exercising, which can help your diabetes management.
- Overeating, which might make your blood sugars rise.
- Not eating enough, which might lead to a hypo if you take insulin or other medication that has hypos as a side effect.
- Feeling bad about yourself and worrying that you’ve let friends and family down.
- Being easily distracted and struggling to concentrate.
- Feeling restless and jittery.
- Moving slowly and not wanting to speak.
- Thinking that things would be better if you were dead or having suicidal thoughts. Depression can also make you self-destructive, and if you feel like you’d be better off dead, then you might stop taking care of yourself.
Though feeling low is unpleasant, if it doesn’t last very long then try not to worry about it. Everybody gets sad every now and then.
But if you have any of these symptoms for two weeks or more, you should talk to your GP or another healthcare professional. They will be able to do an assessment with you, and recommend what to do next.
If you have depression and diabetes
Coping with diabetes can also make your depression worse. There are lots of different reasons for this, such as:
- Feeling guilty for not managing your diabetes properly.
- Not wanting to inject or test in public.
- Feeling ashamed of your diabetes.
- Having a hypo in the night can make your sleeping pattern worse.
- Worrying about your diabetes most of the time.
It really is a difficult cycle. To take care of one condition, you have to keep on top of the other, and this can be tiring. There are lots of different things you can do to help yourself. And we are always here to support you on our helpline if you want to talk about it.
If you have any of the symptoms of depression for longer than two weeks, it’s really important that you go and see your healthcare professional. It’s always going to be a hard thing to do, but asking for help and talking about your problems with someone can be really helpful.
There are different ways that people deal with depression. Your doctor may advise you to talk to a professional, recommend medication or point you towards Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You can decide the best steps together.
"I'd set myself unrealistic targets and was getting frustrated with the highs and lows of normal life with diabetes, which I was seeing as failures. I found it very helpful to start to log events of hypers and hypos. I recorded the reason for these where possible along side strategies to overcome the problem another time, and to record whether this event was in my control, beyond my control or a combination of the two. It may sound simple, but I was amazed at how many events I was beating myself up for which were beyond my control."
– One of our online forum members
Emotional and psychological support should be part of your diabetes care. This means you have the right to ask for it if you need it, and it's free. And although it isn’t for everyone, opening up to a professional therapist or counsellor can really help.
Speak to your healthcare professional about the services available in your area. You can do this during your annual review, or whenever you visit your doctor or diabetes specialist. Or make a separate appointment if you need to. You might be able to be referred to a counsellor through your local health authority or your council, or you can choose to go private.
If your diabetes healthcare team can't help provide emotional support, find out where to self-refer, based on where you live in the UK.
The medication offered will usually be some sort of antidepressant. This treatment helps boost brain chemicals such as serotonin, which helps lift your mood. There are lots of different types of antidepressants, so if you and your healthcare professional decide that you’d like to try them, you can find a type that is right for you. They won‘t affect your diabetes medication.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, offers lots of techniques that help you cope with stressful situations. It helps you identify triggers for low moods and negative thoughts, and helps you learn to deal with them when they happen.
Most people should be able to access free CBT. Find out how to self-refer.
What you can do to lift your mood
Finding the right treatment for you to help manage your depression and diabetes can take time. There are a few things you can do to help lift your mood in the short term.
Talk to us
Our confidential helpline is staffed by a team of highly trained advisors. They know lots about diabetes and have counselling skills as well.
Talk to friends, family or peers
Sometimes talking to those who know you best can really help. We know that these conversations can be difficult to have, so we have put together some tips to help you talk about your diabetes.
And remember, you are not alone. Lots of people are going through something similar. You can talk to other people living with diabetes through our online support forum.
Food and mood
Food can be a huge part of your life. Having diabetes can turn something you used to enjoy into something that is stressful. But food can be a great way of lifting your mood. Have a look at our food and mood advice for more information about eating for a healthy body and healthy mind.
Try moving more
Exercising is an important part of how you manage diabetes. It has loads of positive benefits, such as managing your weight, lowering your blood sugar levels and helping the body use insulin more effectively. It can also really help with your mood.
It can be really difficult to motivate yourself. Having depression can mean the last thing you want to do is get up and move more. But the benefits can be remarkable.
When you’re active, your body releases endorphins, which is a chemical that makes you feel good. Exercising to improve your mood can really help you feel better, and could help you manage your diabetes as well.