Mental Health for Young People With Type 2 Diabetes

How to reduce your risk of mental health issues

Patient Expert
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You may think that type 2 diabetes only affects older people. But more people are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before age 40. This is called “young-onset” diabetes. Researchers report that people under 40 with diabetes also have the highest hospitalization rates of all people with diabetes. Almost 37 percent of hospitalizations in people with young-onset diabetes are due to mental illness.

Young-onset diabetes

According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, around 3 million people between 18 and 44 have been diagnosed with diabetes. Another 1.6 million are undiagnosed. And more than 350,000 people between 18 and 44 are diagnosed with diabetes each year. These statistics for diabetes include both type 1 and type 2. Type 2, however, makes up around 95 percent of all diabetes cases.

Depression, anxiety, and diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, you should know that you face a much higher risk for depression and anxiety. According to the Centers for Disease Control, rates of depression in people with diabetes are double those of people without diabetes. Interestingly, researchers also say that it goes both ways: when you have depression, you face an increased risk of developing diabetes.

There is even a disorder called “diabetes distress,” considered a mental health challenge. Diabetes distress describes the depression and anxiety you may feel about diabetes-related tasks such as checking blood sugar and taking medication multiple times per day, along with following a diet and exercise plan.

You are also at risk of anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder in people with diabetes is three times the rate seen in the general population.

Even though depression and anxiety are common in people with diabetes, the majority of people go untreated. Studies show that only about one-third of people with diabetes with depression or anxiety are diagnosed and treated.

The rate of new diagnoses of young-adult diabetes is expected to grow in the coming years. This means that more young adults with diabetes will develop depression and anxiety. Many of them will go undiagnosed. And whether diagnosed or not, these young adults will face an increased risk of mental illness and hospitalization.

Diabetes and severe mental illness

Diabetes is also considered a risk factor for severe mental illness. One study of more than 15,000 people with severe mental illness found that the rate of type 2 diabetes was 28.1 percent. The rate in the general population is around 12.2 percent. Rates were even higher in Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians.

The rate of prediabetes, where blood sugar levels are elevated, is also high in people with prediabetes. Nearly half of those studied had prediabetes, compared to one-third of the general population.

Researchers also now recommend that all patients with severe mental illness receive screening for diabetes and prediabetes.

Improving outcomes in people with young-onset diabetes

If you have young-onset diabetes, what can you do to reduce your risk of mental health issues and hospitalization?

Proper treatment for your type 2 diabetes is essential. According to researchers, if you have young-onset diabetes, you can cut your risk of hospitalization by a third by focusing on achieving the following health goals:

  • Careful blood sugar management to maintain a hemoglobin A1C level below 6.2 percent
  • Keeping your systolic blood pressure below 120 mm Hg
  • Stopping smoking
  • Lowering your low-density lipoprotein levels and triglyceride levels with diet and/or medication
  • Keeping waist circumference below 33.5 inches if you’re a man, and 31.5 inches if you’re a woman

To help meet these goals, consider enrolling in a diabetes self-management program. These educational programs - available in person and online - can help you learn skills to manage your diabetes more effectively. There is also evidence that they reduce your risk of depression and anxiety.

How do you find a diabetes self-management program? Many hospitals, HMOs, and public health organizations offer these classes. The American Diabetes Association's "DiabetesPro" directory and American Association of Diabetes Educators website also allow you to search for diabetes education programs in your geographic area.

See more helpful articles:

Are You at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

The Less Well-Known Symptoms of Diabetes

America's Rising Diabetes Rates