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Managing diabetes 2020

Diabetes and mental health: the side people don’t see

Vanessa Haydock BCBA, MSc, BSc

The Diabetic Health Coach, FreeStyle Libre Ambassador (also pictured above)

Ups and downs are part and parcel of life with diabetes, but there is more support than ever to help individuals stay positive.

Receiving a diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming. In the blink of an eye everything changes.

Life becomes dictated by monitoring blood glucose levels, injecting insulin, weighing food and planning routines. Nothing is the same.

“You’re having to make decisions about your health all the time and this can be overwhelming at times,” explains Vanessa Haydock, a diabetic health coach who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of three.

The decisions that those living with diabetes make multiple times a day have significant consequences, and it’s no wonder that they experience disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Banishing misconceptions and confusion

While awareness of diabetes is high, few people understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Stereotypes tend to overshadow the real facts, leaving those living with diabetes feeling overwhelmed.

The pressure of constantly defending yourself or having to explain the condition can be exhausting.

As Vanessa explains: “There is a lot of confusion and it’s disheartening when people make assumptions that your diabetes is linked to your lifestyle choices. I’ve chatted to people who feel so ashamed they haven’t even told their friends they have it.”

Don’t underestimate peer support

In their ‘The Future of Diabetes Report’, Diabetes UK identified improving emotional and psychological support for those living with diabetes as a key priority.

This is an issue healthcare providers are aware of and working to improve. However, some of the best support isn’t always provided in a healthcare setting.

As a coach working with those with diabetes, Vanessa is a huge advocate for peer support. At the age of 18 she was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, a complication caused by her diabetes that damages the back of the eye. Untreated it can lead to blindness.

This was the wake-up call she needed to take control of her diabetes. One of the first things Vanessa did was to join a peer support group organised by the charity, Diabetes UK.

Vanessa hasn’t looked back since. “The most important thing for me was just knowing that I was not alone,” she emphasises.

Technology eases the pressure

The pressure of living with diabetes can be all consuming, but Vanessa has found that technology is helping her take control.

Four years ago, she moved to wearing a flash glucose sensor. By simply swiping her phone or reader over a sensor on her upper arm, she now has complete visibility over her glucose levels anytime she wants, which has helped to reduce her overall anxieties around her glucose levels.

Vanessa has now made it her mission to empower others living with diabetes to think positively and work towards their health and fitness goals.

“We have to accept that some days are going to be better than others, but those living with diabetes are actually much stronger than they think,” she explains.

“It’s a full-time job, which requires a lot of emotional and mental strength on a day-to-day basis, and I just want to empower people to live their best life with type 1 diabetes.”

Mental health is no longer the taboo subject it used to be, and no one suffering with the burden of diabetes should feel alone.

Medical advances, technological innovations and peer support are readily available and there is no shame in seeking help.

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