Diabetes and depression often occur together. There are reasons why but also strategies to help you cope.

Diabetes is a demanding condition. If you or a loved one lives with diabetes, you know all too well how overwhelming it can be to manage your diet and blood sugar.

Managing diabetes comes with extra obligations that can strain your mental health. There also may be a biological link between diabetes and depression.

Having diabetes makes people 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression. Further, this risk of depression increases if you have any diabetes complications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 25% to 50% of people with both diabetes and depression receive a diagnosis and treatment, even though treatment is “usually very effective.”

If you have diabetes and also notice signs of depression, help is available. Getting treatment for depression and taking steps to manage your diabetes can make a big difference.

Managing diabetes, a chronic health condition, can cause extra psychological strain, contributing to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Along with this, researchers believe that there may be biological and environmental links between depression and diabetes.

According to a 2014 review, diabetes and depression may be driven by overlapping biological and behavioral factors, including:

  • inflammation
  • disrupted sleep
  • a diet lacking in nutrients
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • cultural and environmental risk factors

Diabetes may also alter the structure and function of your brain.

Researchers state that low blood sugar and high blood sugar can significantly affect brain function, particularly in the areas that control cognition and mood.

Brain imaging in people with type 1 diabetes has revealed a higher level of specific amino acids than those who don’t have diabetes. Higher levels of these substances are linked to depression symptoms.

Also, diabetes and depression can affect how the body copes with stress, which is associated with increased levels of cortisol — “the stress hormone.” Increased levels of cortisol can lead to inflammation.

Finally, there is a link between the disrupted sleep associated with depression and type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep quality can increase insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Along with the stresses of managing a chronic health condition, the general risk factors for depression also apply if you have diabetes. These risk factors include:

  • childhood trauma
  • major life changes
  • stress
  • family history of depression or other mood disorders
  • certain medications
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • higher body weight
  • having another serious health concern, such as heart disease
  • dependency on drugs or alcohol

There is also a gap between the sexes. Females with diabetes are twice as likely as males with diabetes to be diagnosed with depression.

Treating depression can help you better manage your diabetes. Untreated depression can affect all areas of your life and make it more difficult for you to practice self-care, like getting enough exercise and eating a nutritious diet that is crucial for diabetes management.

There are many depression treatment options, including medications and therapy.

You can still take antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), if you have diabetes. You can work with a doctor to find the most appropriate medicine for you, though it may take a little trial and error to find what works.

Often, medication and therapy are used together to treat depression. Therapy can help you identify any depression triggers and unhelpful behaviors. Therapy can also provide you with coping strategies and help retrain your thought processes to help you manage your depression.

Aside from medication and therapy, some lifestyle changes can also help you manage depression and diabetes, including:

  • regular exercise
  • managing stress
  • practicing sleep habits
  • eating a balanced diet
  • seeking support from family and friends

If you live with diabetes, there are steps to help limit the stress associated with managing the condition, which may help prevent depression or distress.

According to the CDC, in any given 18-month period, up to 50% of people living with diabetes experience “diabetes distress” in which they stop taking steps to care for themselves.

Diabetes distress can look like depression or anxiety, but unlike these two conditions, medications are not the solution. Instead, the CDC suggests taking other steps to manage your emotional needs, which could help prevent depression as well. They recommend:

  • Consider working with an endocrinologist to discuss your frustrations and any other issues.
  • Talk with a diabetes educator to figure out how to make treatment more effective and easier to manage.
  • Consider joining a support group.
  • Your treatment team can recommend a mental health worker who specializes in people living with diabetes.
  • If you can, make 1 to 2 changes that can impact your daily routine.

Living with and managing your diabetes can be overwhelming. If you have depression symptoms, talking with healthcare professionals may be helpful. Support groups, such as Diabetes Online Community, can also help.