Does age at diagnosis of type 2 diabetes affect a person’s emotional well-being?

This UK study looks at depressive symptoms, diabetes distress and self-compassion

By Ralph Geerling

Type 2 diabetes is a major health issue. It affects almost 1 in 10 people across the world. It is well known that living with diabetes can have a negative effect on emotional and mental health.

A few decades ago, type 2 diabetes was thought of as a condition of older age. But the condition is now diagnosed at younger ages. So, there are questions about what effects a diagnosis earlier in life may have on mental health. And how does this compare to being diagnosed at an older age?

To answer this question, the team at Leicester Diabetes Centre analysed data from 706 people taking part in the CODEC study. They invited Dr Amelia Lake and Professor Jane Speight to work with them.

Together, they looked at diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in three age groups:

      • under the age 40
      • between 40 and 59 years
      • aged 60 and older.

They also looked at experiences of:

      • depressive symptoms
      • diabetes-specific distress
      • and self-compassion.

They found that younger age at diagnosis (i.e. under the age of 40) was significantly associated with:

      • more depressive symptoms
      • greater diabetes distress, and
      • less self-compassion.

This was the case even when the researchers took account of several other factors known to affect mental health. These included duration of living with diabetes, sex, ethnic background, poverty, weight, and some medications.

These results suggest that adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at a younger age may have greater need for psychological support. Lower levels of self-compassion are also concerning. They suggest that younger adults may be at risk of blaming themselves for their diagnosis. The authors show that this can “result in younger adults with type 2 diabetes concealing their condition from others, making it harder to integrate optimal diabetes self-management into their daily lives”.

Age-specific programs may be helpful for people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes under the age of 40. This might help to prevent the negative influence of an earlier diagnosis on the mental health of such people in the future. But there are very few programs and resources specifically for adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at a younger age. So, much more work is needed in this area.

The full research paper is free to access. You can read it here.

An important way we can all support the emotional well-being of younger adults with type 2 diabetes, and all people affected by diabetes, is to take the pledge to end diabetes stigma.

For more on these issues, check out our blogs about depression, diabetes distress, self-compassion and type 2 diabetes.


Reference: Barker M, Sargeant JA, Zaccardi F, Brady E, Hall A, Henson J, Khunti K, Lake A, Redman E, Rowlands A, Speight J, Yates T, Davies M, Hadjiconstantinou M. Age at diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and depressive symptoms, diabetes-specific distress and self-compassion. Diabetes Care, 2023, (46(3), 579-586.

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