Discovering the Links Between Depression & Diabetes

Woman struggles to deal with diabetes and depression.

Did you know people with diabetes are at higher risk for developing depression? Research indicates depression occurs two to three times more often in people with diabetes. The contrary is also true: Those with depression are at an increased risk for diabetes. Diabetes expert Alecia Allen, MD, UnityPoint Health, explain the links, contributing factors and what UnityPoint Health is doing to identify both to keep you healthy and happy.

Can Diabetes Cause Depression?

Let’s tackle this one first. The simple answer is, “yes, diabetes can cause depression.” Dr. Allen says 30.3 million people, or 9.4 percent of the U.S. population, have diabetes; and some studies indicate up to 15 percent of that population have a concurrent diagnosis of depression. The likelihood of depression is similar in people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but we don’t know yet why this is.

“We don’t know for sure, but there are likely many contributing factors, including hormonal changes, increased workload, stress, the cost of managing diabetes, dealing with complications, medication side effects and fluctuations in blood sugar,” Dr. Allen says. “Additionally, high or low blood sugar levels many increase hunger, disturb sleep and contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.”

Those who believe they or their loved ones have depression should watch for the following symptoms:

  • Loss of pleasure or interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Change in appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of energy
  • Morning sadness
  • Suicidal thoughts

Dr. Allen says it’s not just people with diabetes who fight depression. She says most chronic health conditions are associated with an increased risk for depression.

“It’s not uncommon for people with diabetes to struggle with diabetes distress. It is a reaction to living with a stressful and complex disease. Diabetes distress is not the same as depression but may be mistaken for it. Support from your health care team, education about diabetes and learning some problem-solving skills may reduce diabetes distress,” Dr. Allen says.

Can Depression Cause Diabetes?

Dr. Allen reports depression more often leads to Type 2 diabetes and cites one study where women with depression were 17 percent more likely to develop diabetes, and those who took antidepressants were 25 percent more likely to develop diabetes.

“We don’t know why depression leads to the development of diabetes, but research suggests it could be caused by multiple factors and increases the likelihood that individuals will have a difficult time getting adequate exercise, proper nutrition and sleep,” Dr. Allen says. 

If you are wondering about your risk for developing diabetes, the American Diabetes Association offers a test to help. If you score high on the test or have any of the following diabetes symptoms, contact your provider to see if lab work is needed to check for diabetes.

  • Urinating often
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry (even though you are eating)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow-healing cuts/bruises
  • Weight loss (even though you are eating more)
  • Tingling, pain or numbness in the hands/feet

“UnityPoint Health ensures patients are evaluated yearly for depression and as indicated for diabetes,” Dr. Allen says.

Other Topics from Our Experts:

Veggies and fruit

Cooking with Diabetes: Building a Better Diet

A girl sitting on the floor with her head in her hands

Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder?

A doctor speaking to her patient

The Diabetes You Haven't Heard of: Type 3c Diabetes