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Helping people with type 1 diabetes to D-stress

Project summary

Type 1 diabetes distress is very common, and can make living with the condition incredibly difficult. But we currently don’t have an effective treatment for it in the UK. Prof Jackie Sturt wants to develop and test a programme, called D-stress, designed to prevent, detect and manage diabetes distress. This vital research could help more people with type 1 diabetes to get the emotional support they need to live more happily with the condition.

Background to research

Diabetes doesn’t just affect you physically, it can affect you emotionally too. Diabetes distress is what some people feel when they’re overwhelmed by the relentlessness of diabetes. And this can make it even harder to manage the condition. 

There’s evidence that nearly half of all adults living with type 1 diabetes experience high levels of diabetes distress. We don’t know enough about spotting diabetes distress and how best to support people with type 1 who are going through it. And there’s currently no effective treatment for diabetes distress available on the NHS. 

Researchers in the USA and Denmark have developed and tested three treatments to detect, manage and prevent type 1 diabetes distress: 

  1. Screening for symptoms and training for healthcare professionals to upskill them in spotting diabetes distress. 
  2. A tool for doctors to use during appointments to encourage open conversations about the psychological and social impact of type 1 diabetes, to prevent distress from developing or getting worse. 
  3. A group education programme for people with severe diabetes distress, to equip them with new strategies to manage it and access peer support.  

These treatments have shown promise to reduce the impact of diabetes distress, but haven’t been tested in the UK yet.  

Research aims

Prof Jackie Sturt and her team want to create a new programme combining the best of the three existing treatments and measure how effective it is at reducing diabetes distress. 

They’ll consult with people with type 1 diabetes and healthcare professionals to pick and choose aspects from the existing treatments with the most potential, to form a programme called D-stress. They’ll then recruit 60 adults with type 1 diabetes to test if D-stress works as they hope in a mini study. They’ll also speak to the people taking part about their experiences of D-stress and how it could be improved. 

Next, they’ll run a larger trial to test D-stress with 600 adults with type 1 at over 20 diabetes clinics across the UK. They’ll measure how much it can reduce diabetes distress, improve blood sugar levels and quality of life. They’ll also check if it’s feasible to deliver the programme in the NHS and if it’s cost effective. 

Lastly, they’ll hold interviews with participants and healthcare professionals to understand who D-stress works for, how it works, or why it might not work for some people. Their insights will help prepare the ground for scaling D-stress up and readying it to roll out in the NHS, if successful.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Prof Sturt’s vital research could transform the way we care for type 1 diabetes distress, by creating a first-of-its-kind treatment in the UK to focus on the emotional aspects of living with the condition. If the programme is shown to work, it could be rapidly adopted by the NHS. 

Making diabetes distress part of everyday diabetes care could mean more people have the support to cope with the relentlessness of type 1 diabetes, take care of themselves and live happily. 

Funded in partnership with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) - Project Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) scheme.
Diabetes UK contribution: £200,000
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