Getting support for your mental health can help you manage your diabetes – by Jess

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Jess, who has Type 1 diabetes, talks about how her diabetes and mental health impact on one another.  Jess works for us on a project about user involvement in the NHS England Diabetes Programme.

I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for 26 years and it hasn’t always been easy. Diabetes and my mental health have had a big impact on each other and it can be hard to unpick that. It’s acknowledged that diabetes can be hard because you don’t get a break. You self-medicate and self-manage, and live with rising and falling sugars while trying to keep a normal relationship with food and daily life. But how that makes you feel and the impact it has isn’t obvious. Everyone is different, and I can only speak about my own experience.

It also goes the other way around. I’ve needed more support at points in my life, and it has really affected how I manage my diabetes. But sometimes I have found it hard to be honest with my diabetes team about things that aren’t explicitly to do with diabetes, even if they are really affecting it. It took a while but I eventually got specialist support, and having someone who was dedicated to the mental health side of things as well as knowing diabetes was invaluable. It helped me to get through and learn how to cope with things in a more holistic way.

Overall, I believe that good diabetes care must involve access to quality emotional or psychological support if people need and want it. I hope this becomes the norm not the exception. So that diabetes professionals are able to support people directly, or be able to provide options, like being referred to other types of support or services in diabetes or beyond. However I believe it’s important that peoples’ needs are not just interpreted as a symptom of living with diabetes, or projected on to it, because those needs might go unmet.

I believe prevention is vital – including for children and young people. I think about being a teenager and wonder how earlier help could have changed the course of things. People might also need different types of support at different times in their lives.

Stress is a real curve ball for my blood sugar, for short-term stressful events. But I think it is long-term stress or dealing with stressful life events that can have the biggest impact on diabetes over time – because if stress goes unrecognised or doesn’t go away, it can really affect your mental health and how you deal with everything. Learning what works for you to cope with stressful times, and is healthy not self- destructive (!) is part of it, but this takes time – so it is also knowing that it is okay to let other people know and ask for help in tough times, including your diabetes team.

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