During National Diabetes Week, we take a look at diabetes distress and what research the Children's Diabetes Centre is doing to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people with diabetes and their families.
Being a teenager is hard enough without adding type 1 diabetes into the mix.
“The teenage years present a new set of challenges for young people with diabetes as they juggle their disease management with their desire to fit in, growing independence, body image, temptations such as alcohol or poor food choices and the transition from secondary education to higher education and/or the workforce,” Dr Keely Bebbington, the McCusker Postdoctoral Research Officer in Type 1 Diabetes at the Children’s Diabetes Centre, said.
“Not surprisingly, the teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time for kids with type 1 diabetes from a mental health perspective.”
Mental wellbeing is the theme of National Diabetes Week 2020.
Dr Bebbington said research showed young people with type 1 diabetes were twice as likely to develop mental health conditions (anxiety, depression, eating and substance use disorders) than their peers without diabetes, and that four in every 10 adolescents with diabetes had a serious mental health problem.
A quarter of 13 to 19-year-olds with diabetes experienced depression and anxiety, while the mortality rate in adolescents with type 1 diabetes was three times higher than their peers.
“The teenage years are known to be associated with ‘diabetes burnout’, characterised by decreases in eﬀective self-management of their diabetes and disengagement with services,” Dr Bebbington said.
“Stress and anxiety are associated with poor blood glucose (glycaemic) control, which can increase the risk of life-limiting complications.”
Dr Bebbington said the Children’s Diabetes Centre conducted research aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of young people living with diabetes and their families.
She said it was important to understand who was most at risk and to intervene early to reduce the mental health burden of type 1 diabetes.
“We know that if you can provide intervention for psychological distress early, you can help prevent the development of serious mental disorders and functional impairment into adulthood,” Dr Bebbington said.
Some of the current research being undertaken in this space includes:
Our researchers are developing and piloting an exercise intervention aimed at improving mental health outcomes in adolescents with type 1 diabetes. The intervention is designed to increase physical activity engagement to improve psychological and physiological outcomes.
An online self-compassion program to promote physical and psychological wellbeing in youth with type 1 diabetes.
Our researchers are exploring the experience of stigma in adolescents with type 1 diabetes and its association with both diabetes self-management and glycaemic control.
We are conducting several studies trying to understand how we can help relieve diabetes-related distress including how changes in blood glucose levels affect anxiety and psychological wellbeing for adolescents, and monitoring how patients cope with the daily stress of diabetes so that interventions can be designed to help ease the burden of living with type 1 diabetes.
Find out more about our mental health and wellbeing research team and what they are working on here.