Arts and Health 02: Depression and Diabetes

5 min read

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Aeirmid's avatar
So, when I first heard that diabetes and depression were related, my first reaction was like, "wha--???"

But, yes! It's true!

People living with diabetes are more likely to get depressed than people without diabetes.


There are a lot of reasons. For one thing, the disease itself is difficult to deal with, and, for some people, the fact that they have something that they will have to take care of for the rest of their lives can be overwhelming.

But, it goes beyond that. There are many biological pathways that connect diabetes and depression. We'll talk about some of them in a moment.

When I tell people that people who have diabetes are more likely to develop depression than people without diabetes, they may look at me funny, but they usually accept it. The fact that this pathway works in both directions is what baffles people.

That's right. Not only does having diabetes increase your risk for depression, but also having depression increases your risk for developing diabetes.

Yes, really!

It makes sense if you think about it on a surface level. For example, people who are depressed may gain weight or not feel like exercising or eating healthfully, which can lead to developing diabetes. What's even more amazing, though, is that studies have shown that, even after controlling for behaviors like eating right and exercising, having depression still means you are at risk for diabetes.

We've talked about the behavioral ways in which diabetes and depression are connected (e.g., eating a healthy diet and exercising). But what are the biological pathways?

This will blow your mind.

Diabetes and depression are connected by (1) inflammation and (2) stress.

Inflammation is just what it sounds like. Think about when you get a splinter. The skin around that area becomes red and swollen, right? The same kind of thing can happen inside of your body in response to outside stressors (such as having a chronic health condition or being obese). Inflammation in this manner is very bad for your body and can lead to damage to the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) among other things. Depression and diabetes are both related to inflammation.

Stress is often marked by an increase in a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is a chemical in your body that rises when you are living with stress and falls when you are not as stressed. When you have chronic stress, such as stress caused by living with depression, it is bad for your body and can cause inflammation. That's why it's so important to get regular exercise and to live a balanced life that includes things that help you de-stress.

 So, the bottom line here is that living with depression causes stress on your body, right? This same stress can lead to diabetes on its own and also lead to diabetes by acting through inflammation. Either way, it hurts your body and can lead to chronic diseases (diseases that are long-lasting, as opposed to acute illnesses like the flu that go away after a short period of time).

 The mind-body connection is both powerful and beautiful. I think the trick to understanding it is to look at the factors that can stop the progression of depression into diabetes. For my dissertation, for example, I am looking at whether friendships can stop the process. Does having social support buffer the negative effect of mental illness on physical illness?

I'll let you know as soon as I know! :XD:

Questions? Comments? What's on your mind?


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funlakota's avatar
It's probably related to the appetite changes associated with depression. Some people have increased appetite as a symptom of depression. Many tend to go to carbs and sweets for comfort food, which they may do in times of stress. Because that's when you need comfort. That plus the lack of energy causes weight gain. Increased weight then leads to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Just like you said. ;)

Even when you take that increased appetite and lack of energy into account, it can be hard to lose the weight during depression anyways. I guess metabolism slows down or something.

*shrugs* There's probably a stress factour too. The body hates any and all forms of stress, including mental illnesses. Increased stress increases risk of developing other disorders. Go figure. Disorders (and diseases) cause increased stress, and increased stress causes disorders (when you is predisposed to them, I guess) or worsens them. You just can't win!! :roll: (Kidding.)

I'm not sure so if depression has any relation to inflammation as a cause of it though. Diabetes type 2 sounds iffy too. What if it's the other way around? Both disorders can delay or slow down healing and recovery from other illnesses and injuries... in part due to the stress. (That's because the body is preoccupied with another problem.) One of the way the body responds to both illnesses and injuries is by inflammation. Delayed healing means the inflammation lasts longer.

This is just my opinion on the matter for what it's worth. The relationship is just in round-about way, I guess. I never heard of it being directly causing diabetes type 2. Maybe doctors just like hiding that from us. We already assume the worst of everything as it is. ^^; Why give us yet one more thing to worry about?

Whatever. It's an interesting finding all the same. Hopefully doctors will now find a way to avoid having the depression lead to type 2 diabetes.

Having social support helps prevent the development and lessens the severity of mental illnesses. Because you have friends and family who care. It can also lessen their impact in general and make it easier to recover. I would think that would be how social support reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes if it's a complication of depression. Again just my opinion, based on what researchers have observed between social support and mental illnesses.

Your dissertation will be very interesting. Good luck with it. :) I'm sure it will be very good.

I'm lucky that I haven't developed type 2 diabetes when I relapsed with depression. I've gone up to 180 pounds. :( About 30 more than I used to be.

One more thing: depression is a chronic illness all by itself for many people. Having one episode of depression can increase your risk for future episodes, and that risk goes up with each episode you have. Add to the fact that some people are predisposed to developing it, and you have a genuine chronic illness on your hands that needs to be managed. So the people with that type of depression already have a chronic illness. The good news is that depression responds very well to treatment and can be managed to the point of total remission. That remission can last for years. :)