Policy briefing

Diabetes: recommendations for improving mental well-being

All-party group calls for clearer pathways to support individuals’ psychological needs

All-party group calls for clearer pathways to support individuals’ psychological needs

Picture: iStock

Essential facts

Diabetes can have a significant effect on mental well-being, and there are high rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders among people with the condition.

Almost 3.7 million people in the UK have a diabetes diagnosis, according to Diabetes UK. Nine out of ten of these have type 2 diabetes, which is strongly linked to lifestyle.

A survey from Diabetes UK of 8,500 people last year (2017) found that three out of five people with the condition said they often or sometimes feel down because of their diabetes.

About four in ten people experience diabetes-specific emotional distress, which affects people's ability to manage their condition, according to the charity. 

What’s new

A report in August from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Diabetes heard evidence of significant barriers to psychological care, including families feeling ignored and receiving no support, encouragement or signposting.

Despite high rates of mental and emotional health problems for people with diabetes, access to suitable psychological support remains patchy, according to the group, which is made up of MPs and peers.

A lack of knowledge of the emotional effects of the condition means accessing care can be lengthy, confusing and distressing, the group said. There has been little improvement in access over the past decade, the report added.

The parliamentary group called for clear plans for supporting the psychological needs of people with diabetes that, as well as benefiting their well-being, would save the NHS money.

How you can help your patient

The report recommends that healthcare professionals:

  • Ask patients how they are feeling at every contact and ensure the emotional and psychological effects of living with diabetes are considered.
  • Consider the use of psychological screening tools and the Diabetes UK information prescription.
  • Establish clear pathways with mental health and psychological well-being services and refer as appropriate.
  • Signpost to local or digital peer support.
  • Be aware that people may need additional assessment when diagnosed, at the onset of a complication or another health condition, during a change to treatment, when moving from children's to adult services, while at university and during pregnancy.
  • Treat people with diabetes as partners in their care.

Source: APPG report

Expert comment

Diabetes UK senior clinical adviser and nurse by background Libby Dowling 

‘Mental health is a really important issue when it comes to diabetes care. Poor emotional health can lead to poorer quality of life and more difficulties with self-management. A lot of self-care and motivation to change lifestyle and previous routines is demanded from people with diabetes.

‘Mental health services for people living with diabetes are unfortunately inadequate and variable, though there are pockets of good practice. Practice nurses can make a difference by supporting people’s emotional health as well as their diabetes management.

'Healthcare professionals often lack the confidence to address emotional and psychological issues but we should all remember that it’s often enough to simply acknowledge the problem and give someone the chance to talk about it. Nurses who wish to be able to better support mental health conditions in people with diabetes can also look at what training they need and aim to access that.

'It’s also important to know where to refer people to locally, and to be able to signpost to dedicated helplines, voluntary groups or educational platforms such as Diabetes UK’s Learning Zone.’


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