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The focus of National Diabetes Week 2020 is on the mental and emotional health impact of living with diabetes and encouraging people to talk about their condition and access support if they need it.

Diabetes Australia’s new campaign, Heads Up on Diabetes, was launched to mark the beginning of National Diabetes Week, which runs from 12-18 July, and reflects a new national survey which found people with diabetes have been hit extra hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey found that not only has the pandemic impacted the physical health of people with diabetes, due to disrupted access to services but that for more than 40%, COVID-19 has harmed their mental or emotional health.

The survey found:

  • Almost half of all people with diabetes (47%) have experienced a mental health challenge because of their diabetes in the last twelve months. This was higher (over 65%) for people with type 1 diabetes and women with gestational diabetes.
  • Younger people with diabetes under the age of 40 are much more likely to have mental health challenges. There are over 124,000 people with diabetes under the age of 40.
  • While just over 40% of people with diabetes have spoken to a health professional about their mental health – more than 80% said they had not been offered professional psychological support, and over 25% were not able to access mental health support then they needed it.
  • More than one in three people with diabetes (37%) say they feel burned out by the constant effort required to manage diabetes.
  • More than one in four people (26%) said other people’s attitudes and stereotypes about diabetes negatively impacted their mental health.

Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said it was critical health professionals, people with diabetes, and the broader community recognise the seriousness of the mental and emotional health impact of living with diabetes.

In 2017-18, around 1.2 million Australians were living with diabetes.

In 2017, diabetes contributed to 17,000 Australian deaths, with more than half due to preventable type 2 diabetes.

Almost 500,000 people with diabetes will experience issues with their mental or emotional health this year.

“Diabetes is absolutely relentless. Day in, day out, 365 days a year,” Professor Johnson said.

“People have to keep track of many daily tasks – medicines, blood glucose monitoring, and the numerous ongoing health checks that are required.

“The distress and worry about the long-term impact is real. Two-thirds of people with diabetes are worried about their long-term risk of developing serious diabetes-related complications like losing limbs, eyesight, experiencing kidney failure or heart failure.”

Professor Johnson said the survey revealed people with diabetes need more access to specialised psychological support to help them manage the mental health impacts of living with diabetes.

“Diabetes is both a physical health and mental health challenge. This survey found significant gaps in people’s ability to access mental health support. Mental and emotional health needs to become a routine part of diabetes care, just like seeing a podiatrist or optometrist.

“The mental health challenges associated with living with diabetes can make it harder for people to manage their physical health and increase their risk of developing serious diabetes-related complications.”