• Ken Tait offers some tips and strategies for handling your diabetes 

  • If you are suffering from diabetic distress, you can find a therapist here

Are you diabetic and feeling down about it? Do you ask “why me”?

You could be suffering from diabetic distress. A recent survey, led by Dr. Barbara Anderson, a professor of pediatrics and psychology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, shows that diabetics are more prone to distress and are twice as likely as non-diabetics to become depressed. Read about the full study in Baylor College of Medicine News.

What causes this Diabetic distress?

Having to prick your finger to check your blood sugar levels, taking your insulin four to five times a day, counting the carbohydrates at your meals, ensuring that they are healthy meals, exercising when you should...the list seems to go on and on every day and this can make you feel overwhelmed. It’s this overwhelming feeling that can lead to the "why me" syndrome; a sense of burden or defeat that occasionally dips into your life. As a type two diabetic myself, I can understand how fellow diabetics could become distressed or depressed.

Difficult to define

Doctors are just starting to understand diabetic distress. But how many diabetics are asked questions about their mental health at their regular check-ups, I wonder? According to Lawrence Fisher PhD, professor at the University of California Diabetes Center, San Francisco, writing in the Diabetes Forecast, diabetes distress is “hard to define and distinguish from other states. This is because diabetic distress can be related to and include depression, anxiety and stress". Fisher’s research has shown that in any 18-month period, one third to one half of those diagnosed with diabetes will suffer some form of diabetes distress. In the same Diabetes Forecast article, Stephanie Fonda, PhD, a researcher at the Diabetes Institute of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, says that people with diabetic distress may worry about whether they are getting the correct treatment. She says they may feel they’re not communicating sufficiently with health professionals, and they may wonder whether these health professionals really understand what they’re going through. A new viewpoint article in the Journal of the American Medical Association states: "Among the wide-ranging comorbidities [medical issues] associated with diabetes, mental-health issues are probably among the most overlooked, despite their potential to compromise self-management and increase the risk for serious complications".

Anxiety or hypo?

Let's take, for example, those suffering anxiety. Anxiety symptoms can overlap with the symptoms of hypoglycemia (commonly known as a hypo), where your body has low blood sugar levels and too much insulin. Typically the predicators are shaking, feeling unwell, nervousness and palpitations; similar to anxiety symptoms. This can cause confusion as to whether the hypo is causing your anxiety or whether you are in an anxiety state. The confusion could lead to you not getting the required treatment immediately, especially dangerous if it is a hypo.

Eating disorders

Another area of diabetic distress is with eating disorders. These are more common in women than men and especially those with Type 1. Women with Type 1 and eating disorders have poorer glycemic control, which leads to higher rates of hospitalisation, neuropathy (nerve damage in the peripheral nervous system, usually in the feet and hands) and retinopathy (problems with the eyes). More alarming still is the fact that these women can suffer premature death, due to their internal organs (e.g. kidneys and liver) giving up.


Sometimes just being able to speak to someone who has gone through the experience before (sometimes called a diabetic buddy) is all you need. They can advise how they coped and you can learn from what they did. But when it’s more serious and the symptoms just don't disappear, going back to your doctor or diabetic physician may be more appropriate. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has also been proven to help with diabetic distress. CBT is a talking therapy, which helps to break down your negative beliefs and give you the tools to cope with any further episodes. Hypnotherapy – from a professionally trained and qualified hypnotherapist – can also help you relieve your stress and help you relax, so you are better able to cope with the demands of being diabetic.

Further reading

Coping emotionally with my child’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis

The 10 principles of intuitive eating

How I turned my anxiety into creativity

My migraines were a symptom of psychological distress