Undoubtedly, persons with diabetes are faced with a number of challenges, including having to decipher the medical jargon which patients may have to wade through and the well known worst case scenarios of life threatening complications such as amputations, renal failure and heart disease. However, the effect of this disease on families and relationships should not be understated or ignored.
Classified as a metabolism disorder, diabetes affects the manner in which the body utilises food for energy and growth. This is related to impairment in the functioning of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. However, the effects of diabetes go beyond this.
Diabetes also carries with it a heavy emotional burden; especially in the periods surrounding the point of diagnosis, initial lifestyle change, physical complications and use of medications. With the introduction of diabetes, some persons may feel the disease has taken over their lives. This could lead to sentiments of low self-esteem, depression and isolation.
Some individuals may even experience feelings of shame at the need to be constantly inject themselves with insulin. These emotional states may affect personal relationships with family, friends and partners, since there is a direct link between physical and mental health. This may lead to high stress levels and frustration, which could make adaptation to a new lifestyle more difficult.
Persons dealing with ???sugar’, as some refer to it in Barbados, also at times experience feelings of sluggishness and fatigue. There is a level of emotional stress as well which could potentially suppress the body’s immune functions and increase the possibility of infection. An increased stress level is known to counteract the insulin and disrupt blood sugar control. In fact, research has shown that when the human body is stressed, blood sugar levels rise. Stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol "kick in" since one of their major functions is to raise blood sugar to help boost energy levels when most needed. In addition, blood sugar will rise to suit the situation in an attempt to meet the challenge. Both physical and emotional stress could prompt an increase in these hormones, resulting in an increase in blood sugars.
Aside from the obvious health implications, this perspective also sheds light on the emotional ramifications as it brings with it feelings of irritability and a lack of motivation which could affect the patient’s emotional state and eating habits. Persons with diabetes could respond emotionally to their hormone levels and experience mood swings. At times, individuals will also be oblivious to the mood swings and outbursts.
Several studies have been conducted in this area and information has suggested that persons with diabetes are also susceptible to depression, which may lead to feelings of lethargy and apathy, escalating to a general disinterest. As a repercussion of this, some persons may even experience guilt. Moreover, anger has also been known to be manifested as some persons may see lifestyle changes in a negative light or feel excluded.
Another factor may be anxiety which is another psychological consideration in the diabetic patient. For some persons it may be one of the most traumatic experiences of their life as they find themselves contemplating a list of possibilities, such as comas or amputations.
After careful consideration of these factors, it is evident that these lesser discussed aspects may also have a significant impact on individuals who have to live with diabetes on a daily basis.