Managing diabetes includes mental health support

Emily Viall says her diabetes was accompanied by mental health issues. (WJLA-TV)

For the 29 million Americans living with diabetes, it's also common to experience mental health issues.

A new effort is underway to increase awareness about this often unrecognized connection in hopes of getting patients the help they need.

From monitoring her blood sugar levels to inspecting every food label, Emily Viall says managing her type 1 diabetes is a never-ending and overwhelming process.

"You're making so many decisions every day," Viall said. "It's hugely stressful"

And that's not all she's faced since being diagnosed at age 14.

"I had body image issues, anxiety, depression. All of this coincided to make a perfect storm," Viall said.

It turns out Viall's mental health issues aren't unusual for people with diabetes.

"It is something that is very common in those with diabetes and it's nothing to be ashamed of," said Dr. William Cefalu, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are 20 percent more likely to have anxiety and twice as likely to have depression.

A study published in the BMJ found female patients between 12 to 19 years old with type 1 diabetes are 2.4 times more likely to have an eating disorder.

Cefalu says doctors often overlook these issues, leading to additional stress on diabetes patients.

"This may impair their ability to manage the disease. If you don't manage your disease appropriately, it will lead to complications," Cefalu said.

The American Diabetes Association has launched a new training program to increase awareness and improve treatment.

"We've partnered with the American Psychological Association to form a continuum medical education program to help mental health providers understand the complexities of the disease," Cefalu said. "This is as much part of the treatment as providing medication or having an adequate diet or getting enough activity."

Viall now goes to a therapist and psychiatrist, which she says has helped her get her anxiety and depression under good control.

As a diabetes nurse educator herself, she encourages patients to seek the psychosocial treatment they need, too.

"I'm a big proponent of therapy and I think the medications certainly helped," Viall said.

So far, 120 mental health providers have gone through the training. They will be listed in a registry coming out in January.

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