Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Mental Health

Diabetes and your mental health

A diabetes diagnosis is a life-changing event. Not only does it affect your health, it also changes your lifestyle. People who are diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes often have to make changes to their diet, monitor their symptoms, track glucose levels and manage doctor appointments. These new responsibilities can be emotionally draining and affect your mental health.

People with diabetes are at risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Depression rates among people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are two times greater than for the general population. Depression is likely to occur when people feel distress over the responsibility of carefully managing their diet and physical activity 24 hours a day. While diabetes may increase the likelihood of depression, the depression may in turn increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A diabetes diagnosis can also provoke anxiety, due to fears specifically associated with the disease. Many people with severe diabetes worry about developing hypoglycemia, a condition of low blood sugar contributing to feelings of anxiety, shaking and confusion, or they’re concerned about the longer-term complications of their condition.  

The physical effects of diabetes can also be stressful. Changes in blood sugar can cause changes in mood as well as anxiety, difficulty concentrating and fatigue. Many people with diabetes experience a condition called “diabetes distress.” Unlike clinical depression, diabetes distress is specifically linked to stress about glycemic control and poor self-care behaviours.

 

Cardiovascular disease and mental health 

Mental health and cardiovascular disease also affect each other in a cycle – cardiovascular disease can increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety, and depression and anxiety are risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. Statistics indicate that one in five individuals with cardiovascular disease also suffers from major depression[i]. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for physicians to diagnose depression and anxiety in cardiovascular patients because of the overlap of symptoms such as palpitations, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Depression and anxiety have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease when they’re associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, including a lack of physical activity, a diet high in calories and saturated fats, and smoking or substance abuse. Depression is also associated with higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. High cortisol levels often result in increased blood glucose and blood pressure, as well as weight gain, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

 

The relationship between diabetes and cardiovascular disease

While both diabetes and cardiovascular disease have strong relationships with mental health issues, they are also related to each other. People with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases for a variety of reasons; for example, they may experience high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and poorly controlled blood sugars. People who experience a common combination of high blood pressure and diabetes are twice as likely to develop a cardiovascular disease. Obesity is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease and is associated with insulin resistance that may occur from diabetes.

The relationships between diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health are all connected. Recognizing how your mental health affects your physical health – and how your physical health affects your mental health – can help you take the time to improve both.

Quick tips for taking care of your mental health

  • Be sure to take care of your medical conditions – a healthy body means a healthy brain.
  • Set aside time to focus on activities that improve your mood. Don’t forget to prioritize yourself.
  • Seek professional assistance if you’re struggling with mental health issues. AbilitiCBT, an internet-based mental health program, can help you improve various aspects of your life.

 

[i] Elderon, L., & Whooley, M. A. (2013). Depression and Cardiovascular Disease. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases55(6), 511–523. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2013.03.010