Dr. Ian Zenlea, writing for the Toronto Star insists that having diabetes increases a child’s risk of mental health disorders, such as depression, eating disorders and anxiety.
Discovering that you have diabetes as an adult can be a daunting experience. So, just imagine how stressful and overwhelming it is to be given that diagnosis as a child. Gone is the carefree innocence that defines a youngster’s life. Instead, children with diabetes must learn how to administer insulin to themselves, check their blood sugars and count carbohydrates. It is especially difficult for adolescents who are determined to fit with their friends and peers but feel that their diabetes marks them as different and weird.
Dr. Ian Zenlea, writing for the Toronto Star insists that having diabetes increases a child’s risk of mental health disorders, such as depression, eating disorders and anxiety. “Adapting to the new normal of living with diabetes can be stressful for anyone, but it can be especially hard for children and adolescents who were struggling before being diagnosed. While it’s important to focus on the new tasks that come along with a diabetes diagnosis, families also need to keep tabs on their child and on other parts of his or her life. After all, children with diabetes are children first — and their social lives, their school, work and their extracurricular activities can’t all be forgotten in the wake of their diagnosis.”
Zenlea is co-leading a pilot project with the Medical Psychiatry Alliance at the Trillium Health Partners hospital in Mississauga to determine the effects of diabetes on mental health. Around 140 to 170 adolescents between the ages of 13 to 18 are taking part. Most of the diabetes challenges facing youth aren’t caused because they’re unable to manage their blood sugar but because they’re having trouble managing the mental (stress) that comes with living with diabetes, Zenlea said.
A diabetes diagnosis is both a terrible blow to a family and the child who suffers from the disease. The simple fact that diabetes is a lifelong condition that isn’t going to go away can be difficult for a young adult to wrap their mind around. The learning curve to teach youths how to manage the disease is a steep one. Factor in the shock, anger, and depression that often accompanies such a diagnosis and it is easy to understand how mental health issues can undermine diabetes management.
Zenlea encourages parents to focus on the big picture, noting that diabetes is an enormous challenge that will test the emotional life of your child. Zenlea believes it is important to listen to your youngster’s concerns and encourage him or her to be open about the disease. When a child feels he can talk about his worries, many of the anxieties and depressive behaviors are less likely to gain a stronghold. And in order to ensure that openness, Zenlea insists that developing a support network of medical professionals, family and friends can help offset the shock of a diabetes diagnosis.