When you think about the term “health,” what first comes to mind? Physical health? Mental health? Many people place more of an emphasis on physical health, but mental health is just as important. In fact, mind and body are more connected than you might think! Many physical illnesses can increase your risk for certain mental health issues. This post will focus on Type 1 diabetes (T1D) and the effect that it can have on mental health.
What is type 1 diabetes?
According to Beyond Type 1, it is “a chronic, autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. This attack leaves the pancreas with little or no ability to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar stays in the blood and can cause serious damage to organ systems, causing people to experience Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).”
People living with T1D must monitor their blood sugar levels and calculate their insulin doses according to their food intake, stress levels, illness, and other factors. Beyond Type 1 notes that “these calculations are rarely perfect resulting in a tremendous emotional and mental burden for both patient and caregivers.”
The cause of T1D is unknown, but studies have shown that it results from a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger. It can not be prevented or cured.
How does this relate to mental health?
Stress is something that everybody experiences at some point during their life, but it can be very harmful to someone with T1D. Beyond Type 1 explains what happens when you get stressed:
Essentially, when the body senses a threat — perceived or actual — it has a physical reaction by releasing the stress hormones of epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline) and cortisol (also known as the fat-layering hormone). These hormones trigger the liver to produce extra energy called glucose that your cells can then use to fight the threat (super-hero-style) or flee the scene (a.k.a. Road-Runner-exit).
This can be dangerous for someone with T1D because without insulin, the extra glucose energy piles up in their blood and can not reach the cells that it’s supposed to reach; this is called hyperglycemia. People who have T1D need to make sure to be aware of their stress levels in order to avoid any further complications.
Another mental health issue that people with T1D need to be aware of is depression. According to Beyond Type 1, if you have diabetes your risk of developing depression could be up to four times more likely. Mental health and physical health are intertwined, and someone who has T1D and becomes depressed may not manage their diabetes as well as they should, which can lead to complications.
Women with T1D have about two and a half times the chance of developing an eating disorder than someone without T1D. According to We Are Diabetes, the term “diabulimia” has been used (as well as ED-DMT1) for when insulin is withheld in order to manipulate or lose weight.
For more information about type 1 diabetes and its impact on mental health, visit Beyond Type 1’s website.