Type 1 Diabetes and Mental Health: From a Social Worker
According to the American Diabetes Association, "studies show that people with diabetes have a greater risk of depression than people without diabetes. There are no easy answers about why this is true. The stress of daily diabetes management can build. You may feel alone or set apart from your friends and family because of all this extra work."
American Family Children's Hospital clinical social worker Tristan Prescher, MSW CAPSW, talks about how type 1 diabetes can lead to mental health issues for kids.
How prevalent are mental health issues in kids with type 1 diabetes?
I may be biased in my opinion given my position in the hospital, however I can say that there appears to be some sort of link between the two. My message to those struggling with these issues is that you are not alone!
What types of issues most commonly surface?
Mental health issues can manifest themselves in many different ways. Some examples may include problems at school or with peers, anxiety, withdrawal, apathy, and related compliance issues. It may become difficult to understand negative consequences of poor control or the opposite – management may become an overwhelming part of daily life.
What are the symptoms parents can watch out for?
It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly parents should look out for when every child/adolescent has unique characteristics and therefore individualized symptoms. Parents know their children very well and should look out for any changes from their child’s “norm.” This may be with school attendance, peer relationships, inconsistencies in management, personality changes, energy levels, etc.
Why is there a link between type 1 diabetes and mental health issue in kids?
My personal opinion is that this is due to the unforgiving nature of type 1 diabetes. It is a disease that needs to be managed 100 percent of the time and there is a very high standard for compliance. Diabetes is also involved of all aspects of life (school, friend relationships, activities, etc.).
Are there particular groups of kids with type 1 diabetes whom are particularly susceptible?
I see mental health issues that are the most troublesome in adolescence. Hormones and puberty can affect diabetic management and this is also the time when peer relationships become more important and it may be difficult to “fit” diabetes in to daily life.
What can be done to address these issues?
I think building a social support system of people who "get it" (i.e. Other children/adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes) could greatly help a lot of these kids. Identifying problematic behaviors earlier and linking children/adolescents into appropriate mental health resources would also be helpful. I’d love to get an interdisciplinary team together to make a tangible resource that may assist with these issues as well!