What to Know About Depression and Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on April 11, 2023
3 min read

Depression and diabetes are clinically linked together. Around 10% to 15% of all people who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes also experience depression. 

This can be potentially quite dangerous. Depression can make your diabetes management fall to the wayside or make the disease worse. Diabetes management can also feed into depression and take an enormous toll on someone’s mental health. 

Understanding how to effectively recognize, treat, and live with depression and diabetes is challenging but doable. Look for a doctor trained to treat your diabetes who is knowledgeable about mental health and the role it plays in your diabetes. 

Being diagnosed with type 1 or 2 diabetes often comes with a considerable lifestyle change. Your health is at risk, so your way of life will probably have to change to protect your well-being. 

Diet impacts. Usually, your doctor will tell you to stop eating certain foods and to avoid sugar or alcohol. You will also need to start tracking your blood glucose and insulin levels. These shifts can be incredibly stressful. Interrupting your old habits can cause an emotional reaction. 

Some of the symptoms of depression can include:

  • Sad feelings
  • Feeling empty inside
  • Changes in your eating habits like binging or not eating at all
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling lethargic 
  • Sleeping too much
  • Difficulty with decision-making
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Having feelings of despair
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overly guilty 
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive issues
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Diabetes distress. There is also a condition called diabetes distress. It causes you to develop hopeless feelings of despair surrounding your diabetes. You might feel that your efforts to manage your diabetes are not working. You could also think that you have created some other condition related to your diabetes.

Often, people feel like their diabetes is controlling them, not the other way around. This can cause you to revert to unhealthy habits. You might stop checking your blood sugar and insulin. You might even avoid doctor’s appointments.

Diabetes distress can look like regular depression or anxiety. However, it is specific to people with diabetes. Their mental health issues stem from having diabetes. This is a severe condition. Treating it is a part of treating your diabetes.

Blood pressure. Sometimes symptoms that could seem like depression or anxiety are actually just signs that your blood pressure is too high or too low. Your doctor can help you determine what is going with your body. Regularly checking your blood sugar and insulin levels is also critical. 

Often, the most challenging part of treating depression while having diabetes is just getting it diagnosed. Remember, depression can make decision-making very difficult. Plus, diabetes can cause you to avoid going to the doctor

Many of the ways that you can prevent feeling depressed with diabetes involve creating a solid treatment plan from day one. This plan can include: 

  • Finding an endocrinologist to see regularly: This is a specialist who will help you with your diabetes care in ways your regular doctor might not be able to. 
  • Getting a referral from your doctor to find a mental health care specialist who treats patients with long-term conditions
  • Joining a diabetes support group
  • Focusing on one or two diabetes-related health goals at a time 

If you recognize some of the symptoms of depression and you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, some of the things you can do include: 

Therapy. If you are not in therapy yet, it is incredibly beneficial. You will be able to talk through the feelings you are having. You will also be able to find solutions to help balance your treatment plan healthily. Some recommended therapy styles are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, or dialectical-behavior therapy (DBT). 

Medication. There are many medications you can take to treat diabetes or depression, and sometimes both. Certain antidepressants like SSRIs might help regulate blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes. 

Stress management. Prolonged stress can result in high blood sugar. Stress can also raise your blood sugar to very high levels. This can make accurately monitoring your blood sugar difficult. Finding ways to move through difficulties in your life while managing stress is very important for your overall well-being.

Examples of stress management tools could be exercise, meditation, taking breaks when you feel anxious, getting enough sleep, or limiting caffeine and alcohol.