Charity issues warning over diabetes mental health link

A person checking their blood sugar levels Image copyright Getty Images

Campaigners are calling for more funds to ensure people with diabetes can access psychological support.

More than 298,000 Scots have been diagnosed with the condition but many have been unable to access specialist mental health care.

Diabetes Scotland has now issued a series of demands to both the government and NHS boards.

The Scottish government said it recognised the challenges faced by people living with the condition.

The charity said people with the condition were twice as likely to experience depression yet, across the UK, 40% of GPs say they are not likely to ask about emotional wellbeing and mental health in routine diabetes appointments.

And less than a third (30%) of family doctors believe there is enough emotional and psychological support for people with the condition, according to a survey.

'Has to change'

Scotland's Diabetes Improvement Plan, published in 2014, found people with the condition experienced better care when mental health professionals were involved.

Diabetes Scotland said: "This has not happened uniformly across Scotland and is the exception rather than the rule.

"Things have to change. We want diabetes care that sees and supports the whole person.

"The emotional and psychological impacts of diabetes should be recognised in all diabetes care. Everyone affected by diabetes must have access to the support they need, when they need it."

'I'm not just a human pancreas'

Emma, 27, who is Finnish but is now based in Glasgow, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was six.

"I think diabetes affects every single minute of every single day and that's not often recognised or acknowledged by people who don't experience the condition or by healthcare professionals," she said.

"It has always been a part of my life and I don't remember living without this condition. It can certainly have an impact on your overall mental health and your wellbeing, having to constantly make decisions about caring for yourself and trying to make sure you can live a long and healthy life.

"I have definitely experienced depression and anxiety in the past. My diabetes has been quite difficult to deal with at times because there is a general lack of understanding and support from healthcare professionals in terms of understanding the impact it can have - not just physically but emotionally as well.

"Emerging adulthood, 16-25, is a really, really difficult time for people with type 1 diabetes. A lot of people can disengage and not really take care of themselves in the way that they should, and that sets out a really dangerous precedent for the rest of their adulthood and how they are engaging with their bodies and their condition.

"Seeing a mental health professional about the emotional impact has made me change my attitude towards my body, being kinder to myself in general - less of that perfectionist attitude towards needing to get everything right and to feeling like you are just a human pancreas."

As well as an increase in funding, Diabetes Scotland wants stronger guidance highlighting the importance of providing emotional and psychological support as a routine part of diabetes care.

Angela Mitchell, the charity's director, said: "The day-to-day demands of managing diabetes can be a constant struggle affecting people's emotional well-being and mental health.

"People tell us that struggling emotionally can make it even more difficult to keep on top of self-management.

"And when diabetes cannot be well managed, the risk of dangerous complications, such as amputations, kidney failure and stroke increases."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We recognise the challenges faced by people living with all forms of diabetes and the critical interdependence between physical and mental health is well-recognised.

"Through our Mental Health Strategy, which sets out our ambition for the next 10 years, we seek to improve access to psychological therapies and to prevent and treat mental health problems with the same commitment and drive as we do for physical health problems."

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