At #DX2Melbourne last week, we had a live webcast in an attempt to include people not invited to be part of the event to hear from some of the bloggers and contribute to the discussion. The hour-long webcast was about diabetes and mental health.

With delusions of Jenny Brockie and Tony Jones, I facilitated the discussion – which was actually quite difficult as there were thirteen of us sitting in a row meaning we couldn’t all see anyone other than who was sitting directly next to us without leaning dangerously forward. Also, I kept nearly falling off my stool, which suggests that I am the most ungraceful creature to have ever been positioned in front of a camera.

I’d put together some questions and discussion points to guide the discussion, but was very open to any tangent the group wanted to take to really navigate and explore the topic of diabetes and emotional wellbeing.

As the discussion flowed, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. Another talk about how diabetes affects us emotionally; another talk about not getting the support from psychologists and counsellors that we need; another talk about how usually it’s not even recommended that we may need to speak with someone about the mental health aspect of living with a chronic health condition; another talk from well-connected diabetes advocates saying that there is more to diabetes than simply being told our A1c, or any other number for that matter.

Amongst all the chatter, I asked myself how many times I’d participated in talks, how many talks I’d given, how many tweet chats I’d tweeted in, how many blog posts I’d written that were about the emotional side of diabetes. And then today, on my TimeHop app came this tweet, from an OzDOC tweet chat about mental health, held exactly 12 months ago today:

I’m not saying this because I think we’ve ‘done’ this topic and should leave it alone now. Not at all. I’m just suggesting that we’ve been having the same discussions about this really important topic for a long time, and yet diabetes care still seems to have this imaginary, yet somehow real, line down the middle, with the physical aspects of diabetes to one side, and the emotional aspects on the other as if the two are not fundamentally connected.

I knew that there would be some people listening in who would be hearing all of this for the first time. It would be the first time that although they had probably worked out that there was something missing from their diabetes care, they weren’t sure what it was. Or, they may have known they needed to speak to a psychologist or a counsellor, but didn’t know who to ask about it…and anyway, they may have thought, surely if this was something that lots of people with diabetes feel, someone would have mentioned it by now, right? Right???

Nineteen years I’ve had diabetes. And for at least seventeen of them, I’ve understood and known the importance of checking in on how the emotional impact of diabetes is contributing to how I am managing my diabetes. Or how I am not managing my diabetes (see above tweet….).

The idea that we can separate our mental health and emotional wellbeing from our diabetes is ridiculous. A condition that permeates every aspect of our life, moves in, makes itself a home and lords over us with terrifying threats of what lies ahead, impacts on our abilities to manage the day-to-day physical things we need to do.

Those watching the webcast at home could submit questions for the panel. A couple of diabetes healthcare professionals were watching and one asked a question that, as I read it, made my heart sink. He said that he sees people with diabetes who he believes would benefit from seeing a psychologist, but he is concerned that they will be offended if he suggests it. He asked the panel for ideas on how to broach the subject without causing offense.

Why did my heart sink? Because the question showed that there is still so much stigma associated with seeing a mental health professional, that other HCPs – on the ball, sensitive ones who know and understand the intersection between diabetes and mental health – feel worried that they might upset someone with diabetes if they suggest referring to a psychologist.

Until we normalise psychological support – until at diagnosis when we’re introduced to our new diabetes HCP best friends and psych support is part of that team – the stigma will continue. I’m not suggesting that everyone will need or want to see a psychologist. But putting it on the list, alongside a dietitian and a diabetes educator and an eye specialist will at least people understand that, if needed, there will be someone there to help with that particular piece of diabetes. (And to be perfectly honest, I really do wish I’d seen a psychologist at diagnosis rather than the dietitian who has scarred me for life with her ridiculously large rubber-mould portions of carbohydrate she insisted I eat at every meal!)

I don’t feel as though I am a failure because I have needed to consult a mental health professional in the past. I don’t think that it suggests that I can’t cope or that I can’t manage diabetes. I see it as important a part of my diabetes management as anything (and anyone) else. A lot of the time, I don’t feel as though I need to see someone. But other times, I do. And that is fine.

DISCLOSURES

Abbott Diabetes Care covered all my costs to attend #Dx2Melbourne, and provided all attendees with two FreeStyle Libre sensors and, if requested, a scanner. There was no expectation from Abbott that I would write about the event or any of their products, and everything I do write about it is my opinion, in my own words, and in no way reflects those of Abbott – or anyone else, for that matter.

Advertisements