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Ground-Breaking Survey Uncovers Emotional And Mental Health Issues Faced By Kiwis With Diabetes

As New Zealand begins Diabetes Action Month, Kiwis are being asked to Love Don’t Judge as Diabetes NZ sheds light on the emotional burden of a chronic condition that affects quarter of a million of us.

For the first time, a survey of people living with diabetes has uncovered the real impact of Covid-19 on the diabetes community. It also revealed the prevalence of little-known complications of diabetes distress and diabetes burnout, that affect the mental and emotional health of three quarters of New Zealanders with diabetes.

Over 1,000 New Zealanders with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes took part in the Diabetes & Emotional Health survey last month. It is the first time the emotional burden of diabetes has been surveyed in New Zealand.

This new research from Diabetes New Zealand has found that 81% of Kiwis living with diabetes have experienced diabetes distress, with almost a third of that number experiencing it in the last week.

Diabetes distress is the emotional burden of living with, and managing the relentless, 24/7 condition that is diabetes. People experiencing diabetes distress have feelings of failure, frustration or guilt in relation to diabetes management, or feel overwhelmed by the demands of living with diabetes.

Health psychologist Dr Anna Friis says emotional factors can have a real and measurable impact on physical health, with international research finding a strong link between greater diabetes distress and poorer blood glucose control.

“Research from Diabetes NZ found that 69% of New Zealanders living with diabetes have experienced diabetes burnout. This is where the day-to-day emotional stress and burden of caring for one’s diabetes becomes overwhelming, with people sometimes feeling unable to keep going with their self-management regimes. This is concerning in terms of the flow-on effects on physical health,” she says.

“Reducing the stress of managing diabetes is important not just for improving mental health but it can also help physiologically, with research showing stress-management practises such as self-compassion can help to lower blood sugar levels. In the case of diabetes, good emotional and mental health has a direct link to better overall diabetes management. including better HbA1c.”

Diabetes NZ CEO Heather Verry says the distress related to Covid-19 has been even more acute for the quarter of a million people living with diabetes in New Zealand.

“With one global pandemic in full swing, it’s important not to lose sight of the other pandemic facing New Zealanders – diabetes. Our survey shows that 45% of Kiwis with diabetes experienced more diabetes distress as a result of Covid-19. 14% experienced increased discrimination or stigma, and 24% were diagnosed with a new mental health disorder,” she says.

“Negative attitudes and a lack of understanding of diabetes are a big factor in the emotional wellbeing of people living with diabetes. In fact, there is so much misinformation out there that many people with diabetes keep their condition a secret. If we can’t tell people about diabetes for fear of prejudice and stigma, how are we going to get support for the huge emotional burden people living with diabetes are facing?

“We want the catch cry of November to be Love Don’t Judge. Our hope for Diabetes Action Month is for people to understand that acting on the Love Don’t Judge mantra is more than just expressing kindness. Understanding and supporting people living with diabetes is something everyone can do and that will have a significant impact on their emotional and mental health.”

This November, Diabetes NZ is challenging everyone in Aotearoa to take action to understand and support Kiwis living with diabetes – our largest and fastest growing health crisis. With the theme Love Don’t Judge, Diabetes Action Month runs for all over November.

To learn more about diabetes, Diabetes Action Month or to view Diabetes NZ’s new downloadable resource on diabetes distress, visit www.diabetes.org.nz.

To find out if you are at risk of diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.nz/are-you-at-risk-1.

The national survey on emotional and mental health in people with diabetes found:

  • 81% of Kiwis living with diabetes have experienced diabetes distress, with 30% experiencing diabetes distress in the last week
  • 78% say their emotional wellbeing has been affected by their diabetes, with increased feelings of stress, worry, feeling down, or sadness
  • 69% of New Zealanders living with diabetes have experienced diabetes burnout, with 23% experiencing diabetes burnout in the last week
  • 56% felt concerned about their risk of severe illness from Covid-19
  • 45% experienced an increase in diabetes distress due to Covid-19
  • 14% experienced increased discrimination or stigma due to diabetes and Covid-19
  • 44% have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder (for example depression, anxiety or an eating disorder) since being diagnosed with diabetes
  • 24% were diagnosed with a new or increased mental health disorder (for example depression, anxiety or an eating disorder) during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • 30% felt more alone with their diabetes as a result of Covid-19

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