While the physical health problems associated with diabetes – such as an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer and kidney disorders – are well understood and publicised, the psychological impact is often neglected.
But now a new study has uncovered some startling findings, which will hopefully see the mental implications of living with diabetes get more attention going forward.
According to the study conducted by researchers from Finland, diabetics are significantly more likely to die from alcoholism or by suicide. This is because of the toll of managing the condition on their mental health.
The risk of dying as a result of alcoholism, predominantly cirrhosis of the liver, for diabetics was found to be 10x higher than for the general Finnish population. When it comes to death by suicide, diabetics are 110% more likely to take their own lives.
These shocking figures highlight that addiction and the psychological impact of diabetes absolutely must be addressed. Patients who had severe diabetes and relied upon regular insulin injections to avoid serious complications displayed bigger mental health risks.
The Mental Strain Of Living With Diabetes
Professor Leo Niskanen, of the University of Helsinki, who led the study, said monitoring glucose levels and administering insulin frequently put enormous mental strain on the individuals.
“This strain combined with the anxiety of developing serious complications like heart or kidney disease may also take their toll on psychological well-being,” he said.
For the study, researchers analysed the health records of more than 400,000 Finnish people, 208,148 of who were living with diabetes. The researchers followed the individuals for an average of seven years, looking at different death rates among the patients.
There were 2,832 deaths caused by alcoholism and 853 caused by suicide during the analysis period. A further 3,187 deaths were caused by accidents, mainly falls. For the patients taking insulin regularly, deaths from alcohol-related conditions were 6.9x higher among men and 10.6x higher among women.
Deaths by suicide among the diabetics taking insulin were 110% higher among men and 49% higher among women. Among the general population, women are less likely to die by suicide than men, which goes some way to explain the disparity between the results.
Professor Niskanen said the study highlights that there’s a need for “effective psychological support for people with diabetes.” The heavy mental burden placed upon diabetics who have to self-inject insulin often leads to excessive alcohol consumption and, sometimes, a dependency on alcohol.
He urged diabetics who found themselves in situations like this to seek help from their primary care physicians and said there are many ways such problems can be managed, but communication is vital.
Nine out of 10 diabetes patients in the UK have the type-2 form of the disease, the one closely linked with diet and obesity. While these individuals do not usually need insulin injections in the beginning, their cells often stop responding to the insulin their bodies produce, leaving many requiring insulin injections further down the line.
Since 1996, the number of people living with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled, rising from 1.4 million to 2.9 million. Moreover, by 2025, it is estimated that one in every seven adults (around five million people) will be affected by diabetes.
I joined Premier Choice Group as an SME/Corporate Consultant in 2017 and look after the Healthcare & Protection needs of a nationwide portfolio. I began my career in Healthcare and Protection in 1985 with BUPA, before moving on to Royal & Sun Alliance. In 2002, I became an Intermediary and worked with Private Clients, SME’s and Corporate clients on a local, national and international basis.