One of the topics I wanted to cover for the month of June was the impact that mental health has on physical health. The link between the mind and body truly fascinates me and I would love to explore the links that come between them as I progress through my career. I have recently been working alongside people who have diabetes and I truly believe that those managing life with diabetes are remarkable. I know that I would find this life changing illness very hard to deal with. I mainly work with those dealing with Type 1 however, I also see people with Type 2 and even rarer forms of diabetes. With #DiabetesAwarenessWeek last month, I was inspired to tell you what I know about the condition and the importance of our mental health in relation to physical illnesses.
My particular experience resides in a paediatric community setting. I had minimal knowledge of diabetes types prior to starting, however working within the NHS has been a great experience for me to find out more about the mind and body link. Type 1 is a autoimmune condition that occurs in people whereby the pancreas no longer makes any insulin. There is no known cure for this besides insulin treatment (I hope that in my lifetime we find a cure). Type 2 is where the levels of sugar in the blood are too high. This is reversible and we have the power and ability to do this ourselves with our lifestyle choices. After all, health is wealth!
Unfortunately, diabetes affects many of us, as does mental health. Regardless of which type of diabetes people have, I have witnessed an impact on physical health due to ones mental health. I believe that if all healthcare professionals are aware of mental health they will be able to identify the signs where diabetes is becoming less controlled, to ensure that people have support for their mental health, whilst taking care of their physical health. The article by Garrett and Doherty (2014) similarly highlights my views, as well as indicators that require psychological input and specific psychological problems that people face. The common mental health impacts that I’ve witnessed in relation to Type 1 and 2 diabetes are:
- Denial of diagnosis
- Feeling that nothing can be done to change / help the situation
- Anxiety about getting worse
- Depression about being different and the risks
- Restricted eating habits / disorders.
The impact that a physical health diagnosis can have on ones mental health is more than we realise. This impact paired with everyday life stressors can make a diagnosis feel like a heavy weight on ones shoulders. Imagine having to completely change your diet after a diagnosis, count carbs, fit in regular exercise and monitor blood levels all the whilst living a usual day by going to work or school! The same is also true of the reverse. Having a mental health diagnosis and being subsequently diagnosed with a physical health condition can alter your outlook and how you care for yourself. The strong mind and body link will impact: acceptance, adherence, management and could even impact prevention of other physical and mental health conditions.
One of the great things that the NHS is introducing and what many Trusts have in place is multidisciplinary teams. Having a range of healthcare professionals from clinicians, nurses, dietitians and psychologists in one team allows a person with diabetes to have access to a range of services and be cared for through a multitude of evidence-based care. However, one area that stood out to me is the lack of accessible information and language that the NHS had in place for diabetes. As I do a lot of shadowing, it seems that the same questions and feelings were always cropping up regarding diabetes. Often people were in fear of making their child’s Type 1 diabetes worse, didn’t quite understand medication or were struggling to come to terms with their new diagnosis.
My main task for this clinic was to create accessible information regarding Type 1 diabetes for those with Autism. Once I began researching collating and creating information, it actually dawned on me how appropriate accessible psychoeducation on diabetes is for everyone! I am hoping that now that my own accessible information is available for one Trust’s paediatric clinic, there will be a greater understanding between the individual with diabetes and their clinician.Luckily, during #DiabetesAwarenessWeek the NHS announced the Language Matters guidance to provide realistic and positive examples of communication between healthcare professionals and people with diabetes to subsequently work towards positive outcomes. This document pairs well with the illustrations that I have created and I hope that with a greater understanding, more clinic appointments will lead to successful management of Type 1 diabetes.
I personally feel that whilst diabetes is known to be growing in the Western World, not nearly as many people are educated to know about it, take preventative measures (for Type 2) or know about the symptoms (for Type 1 and 2). It is also not nearly well known how much mental and physical health go hand in hand with one another. The NHS is slowly becoming strained, however advances such as the Language Matters guidance will allow people and clinicians to work in unison to tackle both mental and physical health rather than working against one another. It is important that we all understand the risks and reasons awareness of diabetes is important.If you have any questions or would like to use the illustrations that I have created, please contact me and I will be more than happy to send these to you.
Some useful diabetes links for you to learn more are:
Garrett, C., & Doherty, A. (2014). Diabetes and mental health. Clinical Medicine, 14(6), 669-672.