Diabetes and Depression: Managing Physical and Mental Health

July 6, 2017

Diabetes and depression can each be conditions with devastation consequences on their own, let alone when a single individual suffers from both. Often times, the symptoms of one can exaggerate and accelerate the symptoms of the other, but fear not! There are a few simple steps you can follow to alleviate the symptoms and prevent the onset of both.

Managing diabetes can be challenging (insulin shots, doctor’s appointments, issues with your vision, feet, and heart) but when you add depression into the mix, the combination can feel overwhelming. Tough news, especially since research from the Archives of Internal Medicine says depression and diabetes may be linked, but the diagnosis isn’t a reason to give up! With proper education and attention, you can optimize your physical and mental health and create a balanced state for today, tomorrow, and years to come.

How diabetes and depression interact

According to this article from WebMD, each year approximately 23.5 million Americans cope with diabetes and 14.8 million suffer from a major depressive disorder. And a lot of those millions overlap. It turns out depression increases the risk of diabetes and vice versa. A double whammy for patients struggling with either ailment. 

Why does this happen? Well, after accounting for certain factors like physical activity and BMI (body mass index), it seems that the common denominator is as simple as one six-letter word: stress.

Diabetes => Depression

Frank Hu, MD, PhD, MPH and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston says, “There is long-term stress and strain associated with diabetes management… and this can lead to decreased quality of life and increased probability of depression.”

Depression => Diabetes

On the other end of the spectrum, people who suffer from depression often have elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can lead to insulin resistance and the accumulation of belly fat, putting them at risk for diabetes. It can feel like a losing proposition, a confluence of comorbidity that can be tough to overcome.

A healthy approach to self-care

People with diabetes or depression shouldn’t despair. With a few small lifestyle changes, both ailments can be managed, and patients can lead a healthy, happy life. Here’s how:

1. Recognize risk.

Knowledge is power, so understanding the relationship and increased risk associated with these two diseases already brings you one step closer to optimal health. Just reading this post will help you be more vigilant in recognizing when symptoms arise and taking the appropriate action to deal with them.

2. A balanced diet.

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and healthy eating habits go a long way to addressing both diabetes and depression. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and high-calorie / low-nutrient foods. Eat foods that will balance your blood sugar and help manage your mood. If you’re not sure what those are, check out a service like MD at Home, that works to treat diabetes and depression together through custom care plans, or Dietitians at Home, that can help create customized nutrition plans for patients suffering from diabetes and other disease.


3. Increase physical activity.

Exercise is one of the most affordable and accessible forms of medicine.

It can help prevent and improve a number of health problems (diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis to name a few), and can also help reduce anxiety and improve mood. While it might be tough to get started, even something as small as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking a little farther away and fitting in a short walk can get you going on the path to good health. If resistance training or a HIIT class at the gym are your idea of a good time, go for it. But don’t forget that sports, dancing, even gardening or taking a walk with a friend count too.

4. Quit smoking.

Smokers are 30 to 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes (when compared to non-smokers). They also have higher rates of depression (whether smoking is a direct cause of depression is still debated by some, but some research suggests “that there is a cause and effect relationship between smoking and depression in which cigarette smoking increases the risk of symptoms of depression”). What we do know for sure is smoking is terrible for your health and leads to a heap of health problems (stroke, cancer, coronary heart disease – the list goes on and on) so do yourself a favour and quit. It will bring you one step closer to a healthier, happier you.

5. Meditate.

Meditation is getting a lot of attention these days, and in our super-charged, always-on, connected digital world, it’s easy to understand why. If stress is the connector that amplifies the symptoms of both diabetes and depression, then reducing stress should be a priority, and meditation can help. Try using an app like Headspace or 1 Giant Mind. Or simply sit still for a few minutes and just concentrate on your breath. You’ll be amazed at how such a little thing can have such big benefits.

6. Ask for help.

Sometimes it’s tough to go it alone, and when that happens, there’s absolutely no shame in asking for help. In fact, a little support and expert advice can help put us on the right track and give us the tools we need to care for ourselves. In addition to services like MD at Home and Dietitians at Home, some people find that therapy can lead to improvements in depression and, by extension, diabetes management.  

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of diabetes and depression.

Not sure if you suffer from one (or both) of these serious health issues? Check out the lists of symptoms below and discuss them with your healthcare provider if you think you’re at risk.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression is diagnosed when an individual experiences any of the following symptoms, continuously, for a minimum of two weeks:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiety, a feeling of hollowness
  • An overriding feeling of hopelessness and negativity
  • Feeling helpless and powerless to change your situation
  • Loss of interest in activities or pleasures
  • Lower energy and increased fatigue
  • Insomnia, oversleeping, awakening early in the morning
  • Concentration problems, memory problems and indecisiveness
  • Dwelling on death or suicide
  • Restlessness
  • Weight change and decreased or increased appetite

Symptoms of Diabetes

Symptoms of diabetes can be mild and many people don't seek help until they experience problems from long-term damage caused by the disease. Here’s what to look for:

  • Increased hunger and fatigue
  • You’re peeing more often and you’re thirsty all the time
  • Dry mouth and itchy skin
  • Blurred vision
  • Yeast infections (for both men and women)
  • Slow-healing cuts and wounds
  • Pain or numbness in your feet and legs


For more information on care programs and preventive medicine, turn to MD at Home, the premier healthcare resource for primary care and geriatric medicine for homebound patients in the Chicagoland area.