Individuals with Behavioral Health Disorders are at Increased Risk for Developing Diabetes


The NDEP (National Diabetes Education Program) reports that 29 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease in which blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are above normal. There are two classifications for diabetes, type 1, formerly known as Juvenile onset diabetes and type 2, formerly known as adult onset diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys cells that release insulin, a hormone which helps convert sugar into energy. In type 2 diabetes, which effects the vast majority of individuals with diabetes, the pancreas releases insulin, but the body is not able to use it efficiently. This is called insulin resistance.

Did you know…individuals with mental illness and/or substance use disorders are at increased risk for developing diabetes? According to the Center for Disease Control, for example, a person with depression faces a 60 percent increase in risk for type 2 diabetes, and increased insulin resistance is associated with heroin use among men ages 49 and older.

In an article published online by SAMHSA,Diabetes Care for Clients in Behavioral Health Treatment, several additional important links between behavioral health disorders and diabetes were cited:

  • Diabetes is a leading cause of illness and death for people affected by schizophrenia-related disorders.
  • People with diabetes have an elevated risk for anxiety disorders compared with the general population.
  • Compared to the general public, people with diabetes are more likely to develop eating disorders, which are more likely to occur in young women.
  • Some substances of abuse (e.g., nicotine, amphetamine) induce a chemical process in the body that contributes to the development of diseases such as diabetes.
  • Mental illness reduces the likelihood that a person with diabetes will be properly treated, just as mental illness is associated with other disparities in care.

Many individuals with serious mental illness experience poverty, stigma, discrimination and challenges navigating our complex healthcare system. These factors pose significant barriers for many individuals seeking medical and behavioral health treatment. As a result, poorly managed chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart disease, obesity and diabetes are leading causes of death and disability for persons with behavioral health disorders.

Diabetes education and early detection screenings are important to staying healthy. The good news is that lowering the risks for diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of the disease.

The following are some helpful tips recommended by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services:
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt
  • Eat the right amount of calories for you
  • Be physically active your way
  • Use food labels to help you make better choicesa
Learn more about Diabetes and Diabetes prevention at the American Diabetes Association or check out the following links for additional help and information:

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