Health management is a very messy thing to keep on top of. That may sound like the understatement of the year but it’s a true point that needs to be said.
This can be said for mental health just as much as it can be said for physical health. But very rarely do we openly sit down and discuss the terrible cyclone of mess that is the space in between physical and mental health management.
This week has been National Diabetes Week, and this year’s focus is on the mental health needs of people living with diabetes. Firstly, I must disclose that I do not live with diabetes. I do, however, live with different chronic health issues that impact my own mental health.
So, why has mental health been the focus for National Diabetes Week this year?
For over 50% of people living with diabetes, both Type 1 or Type 2, mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are a major issue; with more than a third feeling burnt out from managing their health.
We talk about burnout from work and our daily lives all the time as a major factor in mental health management, and we have an understanding on how to begin to address those problems.
For those of us fortunate enough to be in full and part-time work, we have personal and sick leave entitlements, as well as some organisations adopting flexible work arrangements, all of which have been implemented to improve our work life balance to prevent burnout. But you can’t take sick leave from your chronic health issues. Managing that is a full time job with none of the entitlements.
I think it is this fact we need to think of. Every day, a person living with diabetes makes around 180 extra decisions a day. Questions such as, “What is my glucose level?”, “Is it too low?”, “Will eating this help or will it make it worse?”, “Do I have enough medication?”, “How is my mood being affected right now?”, “Are people judging me for my illness? “Is my physical health being effected now?” The list goes on. All of these add to that usual day-to-day stress, such as family, work, money, etc.
The thing is, we all know that physical health issues can impact our mental health. We have all experienced days we have felt unwell or injured, and we are unable to do the things we need to do. But for those living with chronic illness, this stress, these decisions, are a daily occurrence, and it goes both ways.
We are starting to gain a better understanding of how stress, anxiety and depression can have an impact upon our physical health.
How a poor mental state can hinder our care and treatment routines aside; just the very feeling of stress can release hormones into our body, which directly affect us physically. This alone can become a self-feeding vicious cycle, as physical health issues can lead to stress and that stress that can lead to physical health issues.
So what do we do about it?
Firstly, we talk about it. 80% of those living with diabetes have not been offered mental health support as part of their treatment. We are still working within a medical system that attempts to treat the physical health alone, whilst ignoring the psychological component, and vice versa. We need everyone to understand the marriage of these two issues and the unique problems that arise as we manage both physical and mental care.