After Diagnosis, Learning to Cope With Diabetes

Being diagnosed with diabetes is a life-altering event. Suddenly, you're looking at a chronic condition that has potentially serious, long-term complications, and one that requires you to rethink how you eat, exercise, and live your life.

Once it settles in that you'll always have to monitor your blood sugar, and that you might have to give yourself shots of insulin, you may feel anxious and despondent. But the good news? You're certainly not alone.

A diagnosis of diabetes can definitely result in feeling of depression, says Curtis Reisinger, clinical psychologist and corporate director of North Shore-LIJ Health System Employee Assistance Program in Great Neck, NY. "People get despondent because they don't understand what's going on," he says.

Additionally, according to a study published in "Diabetes Care," many diabetics report that the inconvenience and discomfort of injections and the pressure of constantly being vigilant impacts as much on the quality of their life as some complications.

"The people who have a chronic disease think about their immediate lives, which includes the day-to-days costs and inconvenience of a multi-drug regimen," says study author Elbert Huang, MD. "The consequences are often poor compliance, which means long-term complications, which will then require more medications."

When Huang and his colleagues interviewed individuals with type 2 diabetes, they asked them to rank the benefits of assorted treatments and the quality-of-life burdens of complications associated with diabetes. Between 10 and 18 percent of patients were willing to give up 8 of 10 years of healthy life just to avoid a life that includes various treatments.

Typically, a diabetic takes many medications on a daily basis and as the disease progresses, the drugs increase and may include insulin injections. It's not uncommon for a diabetic to take two pills to control blood sugar, one to lower cholesterol, two to reduce blood pressure, and a daily aspirin to help prevent blood clots.

To help yourself deal with the psychological aspects of managing your diabetes, consider the following:

  • Realize that you're not going to get far without acceptance—and that it may take a while, says Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Having diabetes is a critical issue," she says. "And until a person accepts that it is their issue, it will be hard to manage."
  • Don't be surprised if you go through the same stages of grief that people experience with a death, though not necessarily in a particular order. "You will experience depression, anger, and bargaining, just as anyone else does who has to go through any sort of loss," she says. "After all, diabetes represents a loss of one's health."
  • Bone up on the disease. "It helps to be educated," Steinbaum says. "It's part of the acceptance process."
  • Own your diabetes. When there is acceptance and ownership of the disease, it becomes easier to deal with. "When a person gets interested in learning how to deal with their diabetes, they become more action-oriented in terms of taking care of their health," Steinbaum says.
  • Consider counseling, suggests Reisinger. A peer support group can be invaluable in helping you to find others who understand what you are going through. If you can't find a group in your area, ask your health care provider for help.



Easton, John. "For some diabetics, burden of care rivals complications of disease." The University of Chicago Medical Center." 27 September 2007.