Diabetes and Mental Health

1 in 11 people worldwide is affected by diabetes, amounting to over 400 million people worldwide. Diabetes is the cause of death for over 1.5 million people every year. 

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how our body turns food into energy.

When we eat food it is broken down into sugar (glucose) and released into our bloodstream increasing the blood sugar, which sends a signal to the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin allows blood sugar in our body’s cells to be used as energy.

However, in people with diabetes, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or it cannot use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin, or our cells do not respond correctly to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in our bloodstream. 

Diabetes can cause serious health problems, including vision loss, heart disease, strokes, vascular dementia and kidney disease. 

There is no cure for diabetes, but medication, weight management, a healthy diet, and an active lifestyle can really help increase the quality of life and reduce the risk of serious complications. Some diabetics must take medicine, so it’s important to get the right support and keep a close check on your health via our GP and Community Health Services, which can all help control diabetes and its potential side effects. The growing worldwide obesity epidemic is fuelled by poor nutrition and lifestyle choices. Sugar alone causes the third highest death rate worldwide, which in turn directly influences the number of type two diabetics, a number which is growing yearly.

Mental Health and Diabetes

The effects of diabetes on an individual’s health are diverse and complex.

Firstly, a diabetic with a poorly-regulated blood sugar level may experience hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar). This affects both physical and mental health, including mood, performance, and overall cognitive ability. An individual experiencing either low blood sugar or high blood sugar requires immediate support to prevent adverse physical and mental symptoms.

Most diabetics learn how to manage their blood sugar levels on a daily basis extremely well without incident and can live a normal life.

Serious problems can arise if a diabetic 'episode' is left untreated, which in the early stages may affect short-term memory, coordination, and cognitive function, and in worse cases result in the individual lapsing into a coma which often proves fatal. Therefore, it is vital for individuals with diabetes to manage or be supported in managing their individual lifestyle habits carefully with their blood sugar levels in mind.

Remember, many cases of late onset type 2 diabetes are totally preventable through healthy lifestyle choices. 

Younger People with Diabetes and Mental Health 

The effects of diabetes on an individual’s health and well-being are as broad as they are complicated. A young person may not take their diabetes seriously and become irritated by the burden placed upon them by diabetes.

Things like alcohol are filled with sugar, and unregulated drinking may be incredibly harmful for those with diabetes. For a younger person, this may have negative effects on their social life, as having to be mindful of these things may be perceived as embarrassing to a younger person who may feel they cannot socialise 'normally' with friends. This may negatively affect moods, habits, and potentially mental health.

Living with a life-changing condition can naturally bring with it responsibility and therefore some stress and anxiety. Younger people with diabetes will benefit from strong support networks and a friend or family member they can call on in times of stress while they learn coping strategies to mitigate their stress. In some cases, type 2 diabetes can be reversed with the correct lifestyle interventions, so taking up healthy lifestyle habits early on is very important.

An individual enduring both diabetes and mental health struggles might have an even larger responsibility and risk exposure. Individuals suffering from bipolar disorder, manic depression, or PTSD may become overwhelmed by the stresses of living a healthy lifestyle. For example, during a depressive episode, an individual might not be able to get out of bed for several days or not have the mental energy to cook healthy food and drinks, let alone think about testing their blood sugar levels.

There is strong evidence about the lifestyle and risk-taking behaviour of younger people (18-24) and the effects on their physical and mental health are directly related.

A person with a bipolar disorder diagnosis may behave erratically and display unusual behavioural patterns if they are experiencing a manic episode. Diabetics with enduring mental health matters should also be supported and empowered to make informed and healthy lifestyle choices, but also provided with the added support and guidance needed to get them through particularly challenging times.

Healthy Minds and Bodies

The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices - such as regular exercise, walking, or swimming, can help control weight and keep both the body and mind functioning healthily.

The connection between healthy exercise regimes and improved mental health is an added bonus and especially useful for diabetics and those suffering from mental health conditions.

With so much varying information about how to eat healthily, changing your diet for the better can seem daunting, so it’s best to create realistic diet plans that are suited to your specific needs. Eating too much meat? Why not try going pescetarian or vegetarian? Or, if you don’t want to give it up entirely, try to limit the amount of red meat you eat, substituting it with steamed chicken and plenty of vegs. 

Diabetics must be mindful of the number of carbohydrates they eat, including potatoes and pasta, both of which are very starchy and can affect blood sugar levels. 

As for cakes and sweets, pies and pasties, these should be best left for treat day, if not avoided altogether.

Alcohol and Tobacco

If you drink alcohol, be very mindful of the amount you drink, as it affects your blood sugar as well as your mental well-being.

Smoking should be avoided wherever possible no matter who you are, but diabetics should be especially aware of the effect of tobacco on the lungs and arteries. Diabetes can lead to many complex health conditions including the narrowing of arteries, which may cause strokes, and also contribute to vascular dementia. Smoking will only make this worse.

A person with diabetes going through a depressive or manic episode may display a stark change in mood and behaviour, including taking up smoking or drinking or increasing their consumption of the two. These could have significant negative impacts on a diabetic’s health.


Most diabetics can manage their diabetes very well on a daily basis with limited help from others. Often, type 2 diabetes is preventable and even reversible with the correct lifestyle choices.

Diabetes can both cause and adversely affect physical and mental health in the short and long term. Living with diabetes is a lifetime responsibility that can be an accepted lifestyle intervention and also a stressful and anxiety-creating condition.

Younger people are more inclined towards risk-taking behaviour and may find it hard to be consistent due to stress or peer pressure.

Just living with a potentially life-limiting condition can cause anxiety, stress and depression. Living with and enduring mental illness may affect how an individual manages their overall health, let alone a complex and life-changing health condition like diabetes. Be mindful of the potential crossovers between diabetes and mental health. 

The good news is that making healthy changes to your lifestyle, such as reducing alcohol intake, stopping smoking, or exercising,  is beneficial to both combatting and preventing diabetes, and may significantly improve mental wellbeing.

My Klarity Team

This article has been written by one of our medical experts.

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