Teenage years can be a challenging time for families, a period made all the more difficult if a child has Type 1 Diabetes.
This is a time for teens to take greater control of their diabetes and rely less on family to help keep their blood glucose levels in range.
It is also a time to have more freedom and to socialise with friends outside of the home, unaccompanied by parents.
While this is a rite of passage for most teenagers, it also presents a new set of challenges for young people with diabetes as they juggle their disease management with their new-found independence, desire to fit in, body image and temptations such as poor food choices or alcohol.
For some, the burden of having diabetes is overwhelming, with up to a third of young people experiencing depression and anxiety disorders.
Not only do stress and anxiety have a detrimental effect on quality of life and wellbeing, they are also associated with poor glycaemic control, which is a risk for long-term complications.
Clinical Psychologist Registrar Keely Bebbington said the teenage years were hard enough without throwing diabetes into the mix.
Dr Bebbington was recently appointed the Children’s Diabetes Centre’s inaugural McCusker Research Fellow in Type 1 Diabetes to conduct research aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of young people living with diabetes and their families.
She said the teenage years could be a challenging and frustrating time for families as they relinquished some of the control of their child’s diabetes management.
“The transition from childhood to adolescence is a critical time point in a person’s diabetes journey so we need to ensure that they have the right coping mechanisms to navigate this tricky time,” Dr Bebbington said.
“While teenagers without diabetes usually challenge responsibility as a way to individuate themselves from parents, for the teen with diabetes, pushing the boundaries can have drastically different consequences.
“We know that if you can provide intervention for poor mental health early, you can help prevent the development of serious mental disorders and functional impairment into adulthood.
“We also know that establishing good diabetes care and routines in the pre-adolescent years helps the adolescent navigate their teen years with diabetes.”
Dr Bebbington said it was vital for parents to keep engaged with their adolescent so that they felt comfortable having conversations about their diabetes management and mental health.
“That said, it is important to take a step back and let your teen navigate their own diabetes management and support their independence, but let them know you are always there if they need help,” she said.
Dr Bebbington said researchers wanted to know more about the mental health impact of diabetes on families and work to reduce this impact.
“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 mental wellbeing for students, and monitoring how patients cope with the daily stress of diabetes so that interventions can be designed to help ease the mental health burden,” she said.
For more information on the Children’s Diabetes Centre’s mental health research, click here.