Social illness

Diabetes and Mental Health

Many physical health conditions can be linked to mental ill health. One such condition is diabetes. As World Diabetes Day approaches (14th November 2023), we take a look at what diabetes is and how MQ are supporting researchers working to improve care. 


What is diabetes? 

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder. Simply put, diabetes affects the body’s sugar levels meaning they are higher than usual for longer periods of time. This is due to either insufficient production of the hormone insulin or  insulin resistance. symptoms to look out for might include weight fluctuations, being very hungry or thirsty, tiredness and an increased need to urinate. 

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 is a lifelong condition where the immune system destroys cells producing insulin. Type 2 is where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or does not react to insulin in the same way as other people. 


Diabetes facts 

  • The most common form of diabetes is type 2, according to the NHS. Over 90% of all adults with diabetes in the UK have type 2. 
  • Worldwide there are around 9 million individuals with type 1 diabetes, a more volatile condition, of which the cause is unknown.  
  • People with both types of diabetes are at a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety and are at a higher risk of early mortality due to the combination of mental health and physical health comorbidities. 


Mental Health and Diabetes 

Physical illness and mental illness are often interrelated. Dr Rona Strawbridge, a researcher on DATAMIND supported by MQ, studied diabetes amongst other physical health conditions and developed a fascination with how the mental and physical aspects of health are interrelated. Her research shows the links between the two. 

“It’s not that you have a physical condition and it causes a mental condition or the other way around. It goes in both directions. The strong link suggests there is something underlying both.” Dr Rona Strawbridge, part of DATAMIND supported by MQ

Watch or listen to our Open Minds podcast episode to find out more.  

Depression and diabetes are very much linked. One 2016 study showed that in diabetic patients, depression remains underdiagnosed and yet also stated that depression is two to three times more likely to occur in those with diabetes than those who don’t have the condition. This is backed up by a 2001 meta-analysis suggested depression could be twice as common in those with diabetes than those without. However, it’s important to note this is similar to statistics found in other chronic illnesses. 

Another study revealed that those with both diabetes and depression were 85% more likely to have a heart attack. Finding people most at risk and watching their heart health is vital. The research shows the importance of finding people most at risk and monitoring their cardiovascular health. Read more about how our physical health could be impacted by our mental health in our article here.  

Another interesting fact that a major study supported by MQ, called PHOSP found is that those admitted to hospital with COVID-19 who experienced the most severe and prolonged symptoms tended to be white women aged 40 to 60 with at least two long term health conditions such as asthma or diabetes.  

The same study found five months after leaving hospital for COVID-19 treatment, 25% of people experienced significant symptoms of anxiety and depression, and 12% had symptoms of PTSD. 


How are MQ helping?  

MQ have partnered with JDRF to support brand new research into adapting and testing treatment for Type 1 diabetes and mental health comorbidities.  

This project is trying to see if treatment already found to be effective for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with type 2 diabetes can be adapted for use with patients with type 1 diabetes. Dr Leslie Johnson is the researcher behind the study. 

Through one-on-one interviews with these clinical actors and group discussions with people living with type 1 diabetes we will have a full picture of where there are gaps in service delivery and how we can create acceptable and sustainable solutions that meet both patient and provider needs.” Dr Leslie Johnson, MQ Research Fellow

This project has the potential to help the millions of people living with type 1 diabetes and symptoms of depression and anxiety by improving the care options available to them. Read more about Dr Johnson here 


Comorbidity – Diabetes and Mental Illness 

Diabetes and mental illness have other added complications. People with severe mental illnesses die up to 10 years earlier than other members of the population. Amongst those with severe mental illness there is a disproportionately high rate of low-to-no detection physical health problems. Earlier this year, a new paper published in the Lancet Psychiatry called for worldwide action to stop growing mortality rates of people with poor mental health. MQ were are a key part of this. Read more about the Gone Too Soon Project. 

When it comes to mental health being linked with physical health, MQ are putting mental health at the forefront which will only lead to better physical health too including for those with conditions like diabetes. 


Challenging Governmental Strategy 

MQ are also helping unite mental health and physical health treatment by calling on the government to change its healthcare policy. 

Earlier this year, the government chose to release its much-anticipated Major conditions strategy framework in the depths of the summer parliamentary recess, raising questions MQ were not afraid to ask regarding their commitment to improving mental health as well as physical health. 

Also earlier this year, MQ delivered to Downing Street a report to request the UK Government reconsider their mental health strategy. 

Following MQ’s demands for the Government to renew long-term commitment to mental health, all parties were asked to prioritise mental health in their manifestos. Led by the Centre for Mental Health and supported by MQ, over 30 mental health organisations came together to jointly make this strong request. You can read about it here.   


If you would like to receive support for diabetes please visit Diabetes UK if you’re in the United Kingdom and if you’re in the USA, please visit JDRF. 

The post Diabetes and Mental Health first appeared on MQ Mental Health Research.

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