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A Dangerous Duo: Why Diabetes and Depression Are a Bad Combination

Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner who believes in the power of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent and fight illness.

Diabetes and depression are an unhealthy combination–especially for women. Research shows depression occurs twice as often in people with diabetes. Plus, there are other downsides to having this combination of life-changing health conditions. According to a study, women who have both diabetes and depression are at greater risk of dying prematurely.

Why would there be such a link? Diabetes is a challenging health problem to deal with. It’s a chronic condition that requires ongoing management and may create a greater financial burden on people and families. Diabetics may also have other health problems that add to the financial and emotional weight of dealing with this chronic illness.

Diabetes Increases the Risk of Other Health Conditions

Diabetes can lead to other serious health complications if not properly managed. These include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and nerve damage. This creates more financial burden and uncertainty.

Plus, managing diabetes can be emotionally challenging, as it can be difficult to deal with the lifestyle changes necessary to keep the condition under control.

Diabetes With Depression: It’s Not a Healthy Combination

Why should we be concerned about diabetes and depression? Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at almost 79,000 middle-aged and older women who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study.

After following the health of these women for 6 years, they found both depressed women and women with diabetes had a greater risk of dying early. However, females with both diabetes and depression had a whopping 3 times greater risk of premature death.

The risk of dying of heart disease was also greater for women with both depression and diabetes. Research shows each condition is associated with higher rates of heart disease and this study showed having both conditions is even more damaging to health.

The higher risks held even after the researchers controlled for other risk factors for heart disease and early death. Women who were at the greatest risk were those with a long history of diabetes and those requiring insulin therapy.

Diabetes and Depression May Occur Together

Depression and diabetes are both serious health problems and are often seen together. Up to 1 in 4 people who have diabetes also suffers from depression – and it often goes undiagnosed by doctors. Plus, healthcare providers focus more on keeping blood sugars down. Being pressed for time, they may not address mental health issues.

Some patients are also reluctant to admit they have the blues and may not feel comfortable discussing feelings of sadness and hopelessness with their physician or their family. So, it’s likely that depression goes undetected in some people with diabetes.

Why Is Depression More Common in Diabetics?

Diabetics are at greater risk for depression for a variety of reasons. The challenges of managing their disease add additional stress–and the complications of diabetes can be burdensome and require hospitalization in some cases.

Plus, some diabetics are in chronic pain due to diabetic nerve damage or neuropathy. In addition, diabetics spend more time trying to control their blood sugars and maintain their health, which places greater physical and psychological pressures on them. Diabetes is not an easy disease to live with or control.

Sadly, diabetics who become depressed may stop checking their blood sugars regularly, eat the wrong foods, and not exercise–which may explain part of their higher risk of dying. Having diabetes and depression sets up a cycle that leads to poor diabetic control and complications such as heart disease.

Diabetes and Depression May Go Hand in Hand

Diabetics are at a higher risk for depression. Even more disturbingly, the combination increases their risk of dying prematurely. It’s important that everyone with diabetes be evaluated by a professional if they’re feeling down or dealing with problems such as difficulty sleeping, fatigue, loss of pleasure in daily activities, changes in appetite, anxiety and, especially, suicidal thoughts. Getting treatment could save their life.

References

  • Family Practice News. February 15, 2011. Page 21.
  • Holt RI, de Groot M, Golden SH. Diabetes and depression. Curr Diab Rep. 2014 Jun;14(6):491. doi: 10.1007/s11892-014-0491-3. PMID: 24743941; PMCID: PMC4476048.
  • American Diabetes Association. “Depression”
  • "Diabetes and Depression: What's the Link? - Healthline." 27 Jan. 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/depression.
  • "Links between diabetes and depression | Diabetes UK." https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/emotions/depression.
  • Bădescu SV, Tătaru C, Kobylinska L, Georgescu EL, Zahiu DM, Zăgrean AM, Zăgrean L. The association between Diabetes mellitus and Depression. J Med Life. 2016 Apr-Jun;9(2):120-5. PMID: 27453739; PMCID: PMC4863499.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.