How to start the conversation

Monday, 10 October 2016

It’s little surprise that managing diabetes can feel overwhelming at times, but it’s important to start the conversation about how it’s impacting you. Managing diabetes can sometimes feel like a full-time job with checking blood glucose levels, taking medications or insulin, remembering appointments and checkups, thinking about what to eat, keeping active and much more.

While it’s normal to feel stressed or anxious at times about having to manage a chronic condition such as diabetes, intense or  ongoing feelings can be a sign of diabetes distress, burnout or depression. Too often people struggle quietly on their own with stress, anxiety and depression and it can be hard to know how to help, but just letting someone know that you care could make all the difference.


Diabetes distress and burnout vs depression

Diabetes distress occurs when concerns about managing diabetes start to impact on daily life, including work, school, family or social life.  Someone might feel overwhelmed by the demands of diabetes, frustrated that they can’t control their blood glucose readings or feel guilty that they’re ‘failing’ when things get a bit off-track.

Burnout occurs when the distress intensifies it all feels like managing diabetes is too much to cope with and they want to forget they have diabetes altogether.   People with diabetes may experience distress or burnout at various times through their lives but it’s important for them to look after their mental health and seek support from loved ones and diabetes care team when they need it.

Depression, on the other hand, is a serious mental health condition that may or may not be related to diabetes.  Depression is one of the most common mental health concerns in our society, but people with diabetes have a two-fold increased risk of developing the condition.  They may be feeling down much of the time, have little interest in things they used to enjoy or experience changes in their appetite or sleep.  If you think you (or someone you know) might be depressed, talk to your GP. They can help diagnose the condition and talk about treatment options.

Managing diabetes can also be tough for families and carers and they can also be susceptible to these conditions.  The desire to take good care of their loved ones can cause stress and worry, which can affect their own mental health and well-being.


How to start a conversation

It’s not always easy to start a conversation with someone about how they are feeling.   It can feel like you might be opening a Pandora’s Box and don’t know what to do if someone opens up to you.  The good news is that you don’t have solve their problems for them – your job is just to be a good listener and let them know you care.  If you know someone you think might be struggling try some of these conversation starters:

  • “How have you been lately? What’s been happening?”
  • “What’s going on for you at the moment?”
  • “How are you going?”

Give the person a chance to talk about whatever might be on their mind.  Often people appreciate the opportunity to talk and feel like they’re being understood.  Avoid the urge to jump in with your own story about a similar experience.  Offer them support and encourage them to reflect on how their feeling: “Wow, you’ve got a lot going on for you at the moment – how are you coping?

Keep in touch with the person following your conversation to let them know you’ve haven’t forgotten about them.  It could be as simple as sending a text message, giving them a phone call or organising to catch up again for coffee or a round of golf.  Anything to let them know you care.

If they’ve been feeling down for an extended period of time, consider suggesting they seek professional help.  A local psychologist is a great resource and they can make an appointment directly or else their GP can help organise a referral.  Phone counselling is available from Lifeline (Ph: 13 11 14) and Kids Helpline for those aged 5 – 25 years (Ph: 1800 55 1800).

Diabetes NSW & ACT is also here to help for you.  Our infoline is staffed with Credentialled Diabetes Educators, Dietitians and Exercise Physiologists to help answer your diabetes questions.  Give us a call on 1300 342 238.

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