Remembering the Mind-Body Connection for American Diabetes Month

Recent findings from the National Institute of Health indicate that diagnoses of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes among youth are on the rise. A debilitating illness, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, and last year cost the nation about $327 billion in treatments and lost productivity, according to the American Diabetes Association. Much like with mental illness, the prevalence of diabetes is increasing, and scientists are paying greater attention to the links between physical and mental health.

November marks the annual American Diabetes Month, and World Diabetes Day is the international observance taking place on November 14th. Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., President and CEO of NJAMHAA, is taking the opportunity to remind all healthcare providers to consider the link between physical and mental health: "Diabetes often co-occurs with mental illness. It is clear that we can no longer separate physical and behavioral health treatment. With both mental health challenges and diabetes on the rise in the United States, the need to expand integrated care options is ever more pressing, and vulnerable individuals need comprehensive services to take care of both physical and mental health needs."

NJAMHAA is a statewide trade association representing 144 organizations that serve New Jersey residents with mental illness and/or substance use disorders, and their families. Community-based behavioral health providers frequently serve patients with not only mental health and/or substance use issues, but also complex chronic health conditions, including diabetes, that create additional challenges for vulnerable individuals. Many NJAMHAA member agencies either provide medical services at their own facilities, or maintain partnerships with local clinics or hospitals to be able to quickly connect individuals with necessary medical treatment.

Research published at the beginning of this decade by the National Institutes of Health states that mental illness is difficult to detect among diabetes patients, and up to 45% of cases of severe psychological distress among diabetes patients go undiagnosed. At the same time, individuals with diabetes are two to three more times more likely to suffer from depression, and about 20% more likely to experience anxiety, than people without diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The high comorbidity of mental health problems and diabetes demonstrates that the illnesses influence each other: while the pharmacology, biology, and the stress of treatment of diabetes negatively affect mental health, poor mental health in turn can lead to lower diabetes treatment adherence and poor overall outcomes.

In the policy push toward integrated care, NJAMHAA has also been a major voice in calling for the enforcement of the federal law to promote parity, or the equal access to mental health and substance use services as to medical treatment. Individuals who have insurance coverage and receive ongoing care for chronic diseases such as diabetes may still have difficulty locating, enlisting in, and receiving approval for mental health services that could significantly improve their overall well-being.

Individuals can lower their chances of developing type 2 diabetes, the most common type, by developing healthy habits. High body fat, a sedentary lifestyle, and diets high in sugar and fat are factors that increase diabetes risk, and are also associated with a host of other physical and mental health conditions. A primary care physician can diagnose prediabetes, or elevated blood sugar levels, before it develops into full-blown diabetes. As with other illnesses, early detection of prediabetes can help individuals avoid or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by encouraging them to make healthy lifestyle choices.

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