Mood Swings & Diabetes Distress: How Diabetes Affects Mental Health

Diabetes and poor mental health often go hand in hand. In fact, 43.4% of Australian adults with diabetes have medium, high or very high psychological distress, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals. The physical symptoms of diabetes can cause mood swings, anxiety and confusion, while the stress of managing the condition sometimes results in diabetes distress.   

Diabetes distress

People with diabetes can develop diabetes distress: a mental health condition with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Although not always a severe mental illness, diabetes distress negatively impacts quality of life. Everyday responsibilities and worries about possible complications are common causes. For example, diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage in the feet and legs that affects roughly 50% of people with diabetes. As such, people with diabetes need to take extra care of their feet, with special socks, shoes and good hygiene. This is on top of the other responsibilities, which can commonly lead to worries about blood sugar levels being too high or low or missing insulin doses, as well as general feelings of inadequacy or powerlessness about trying to control the condition.

Mood swings

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause sudden mood swings. Symptoms of low blood sugar (70 milligrams per decilitre or under) can include hunger, difficulty concentrating, confusion and irritability. Moreover, low blood sugar levels can cause mild euphoria followed by a surge in adrenaline as the body works to raise glucose levels in the bloodstream by converting glycogen in the liver. Consequently, fight-or-flight mode is engaged, resulting in irritability. Alternatively, tiredness, nervousness and poor cognition can result from high blood sugar levels (130 milligrams per decilitre or over).

Improving mental and physical health

A healthy lifestyle can help people with diabetes maintain good mental and physical health. Sticking to a meal schedule can promote good glucose readings, while checking blood sugar levels at regular times throughout the day also helps regulate glucose levels and mood. Additionally, diabetes self-management programs can help people practise healthy behaviours to maintain a healthy weight and meet blood sugar targets. “Preventive” mental health appointments also allow individuals to talk about their concerns and minimise diabetes distress, even if they’re not diagnosed with mental health issues.  

Mood swings and distress are common symptoms of diabetes. Seeking medical and psychological support can help people successfully manage the condition and stay in good overall health.

This article was kindly written and contributed by Cassie Steele.

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