Reducing diabetes distress: Can cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) help?

Research from King’s College London examines the benefits among adults with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

By Dr Edith Holloway

Diabetes distress is the negative emotional response to living with, and managing, diabetes. For example, feeling alone, overwhelmed, guilty or anxious about diabetes or how to manage it. Diabetes distress can affect relationships, quality of life and how a person manages their diabetes. There is very little research about how to reduce diabetes distress.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of (talking) therapy. It is based on the idea that how a person thinks, and acts, affects how they feel. CBT can be a helpful tool to deal with stressful life situations. It can help a person to identify and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours to reduce their distress. So-called ‘third-wave CBT interventions’, such as mindfulness, may also be effective for a range of mental health problems.

The authors examined the effect of CBT and third-wave CBT interventions on diabetes distress, depression, anxiety and average blood glucose (HbA1c). They reviewed 22 studies from 12 countries. In 13 studies, the Problem Areas in Diabetes Scale was used to assess diabetes distress.

Overall, the researchers found that:

      • CBT reduced diabetes distress
      • CBT reduced depression
      • CBT third-wave interventions reduced anxiety but not diabetes distress
      • CBT intervention tailored to diabetes-specific concerns were associated with the largest improvements in diabetes distress
      • CBT interventions may be more beneficial for people with diabetes when delivered online

This review provides encouraging evidence to support the benefits of CBT for people experiencing diabetes distress.

To read more of our research about diabetes distress, check out our previous blogs on this topic.

Jenkinson, E., Knoop, I., Hudson, J.L., Moss-Morris, R. and Hackett, R.A. The effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and third wave Cognitive Behavioural interventions on diabetes-related distress: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabet Med, 2022: e14948.

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