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Diabetes UK Research Workshop on Mental Well-being: London, 28 Feb – 1 Mar 2019

An interactive 2-day workshop designed to challenge conventional thinking, discuss the obstacles and identify potential steps forward

By Prof Jane Speight [1]


An invitation to join a two-day Diabetes UK workshop to discuss the research priorities needed for improving the psychological wellbeing of people with diabetes is just too good an opportunity to pass up. So, it was with great enthusiasm, optimism and intrigue that Dr Christel Hendrieckx [2] and I travelled to London last week.

When we arrived, it became evident that this was a ‘who’s who’ of the world’s specialists in the psychological aspects of diabetes, alongside biomedical diabetes experts (clinicians and researchers). It was clear that everyone had enthusiasm and relevant leadership roles to inform and enable progress. Most importantly, we were joined by many people with diabetes, who were enthusiastic to challenge us to create a better future for people with diabetes. The energy and passion in the room was inspiring. So many experts and enthusiasts all focused on an often neglected issue. Why were we here? Because Diabetes UK’s diabetes Clinical Studies Groups [3] (which bring together academics, healthcare professionals and people with diabetes) have each, independently, identified the area of mental wellbeing in diabetes as an area of unmet clinical need and a priority research gap.

Day 1 started with an exercise in which everyone was asked to write down a few key details about their relevant expertise, skills, resources, networks and collaborations. Then, the questions got a bit harder: ‘In my opinion, the biggest challenge in terms of diabetes and mental wellbeing is…’, followed by a bit of ‘blue-sky’ thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could…’. We then heard from several eminent speakers who focused our minds on the key areas of depression, diabetes distress and disordered eating. After this, we were asked to form into small groups (which changed throughout the day) and were given tasks and challenges to enable us to identify gaps and opportunities. By the end of the day, we had filled the rear wall of the meeting room with countless post-it notes full of ideas.

By Day 2, as if by magic, the post-it notes had been formed into key research themes – I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets in revealing it was not elves but really some impressive work by the Diabetes UK research team. Throughout Day 2, we were challenged to bring further order to these issues to refine them into research questions identifying aims, rationales, the significance of the questions, the barriers and the key resources needed to achieve outcomes. By the end of the day, 10 key research priorities had been generated, considered, challenged, refined, and are now ready for action.

…And therein lies the biggest challenge! What next? How will these research priorities become research projects? Diabetes UK has a huge task ahead. First, they need to distil the outputs from this 2-day meeting into a summary report and key action points. But then, they need to weigh these priorities against many others emerging from the Clinical Study Groups, and work out how to support numerous important initiatives with limited funding and resources. One of the biggest challenges for psychological research in diabetes remains how the proposals are viewed and scored by research panels — there is some serious work needed to convince the panels of the value of psychosocial research compared with the search for a cure, furthering our understanding of the biomarkers for complications, or evaluating the latest medications and diabetes technologies.

However, I for one remain cautiously optimistic. As Dr Elizabeth Robertson [4] (Director of Research: Diabetes UK) reminded us in her opening remarks, borrowing from the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. Our challenge is to show resilience and remain committed to this cause in the face of the challenges that remain to be solved. People with diabetes deserve that and much, much more.

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To find out more about what happened at this workshop, check out the Twitter coverage via #diabetesMWB [5].

To read more about mental health and diabetes, click here [6].