Living with a chronic illness can impact your life in some unexpected ways after you receive the diagnosis. How changes your physical abilities, how it increases your reliance on others, and how it modifies your future and sense of self are just some examples of how we see chronic illness show up for our clients.
One chronic illness that can be particularly impactful is type 1 diabetes, a disease that affects that pancreas’s ability to make insulin, a hormone that allows the body to use glucose as energy. When the body doesn’t make any insulin, the person with diabetes immediately becomes responsible for managing their insulin and blood sugar levels. It might sound simplistic at first, but it is an arduous, ceaseless task of balancing food, exercise, insulin and 39 other factors (https://diatribe.org/42factors) that can increase or decrease your blood sugar.
A recent study showed the impact that type 1 diabetes can have on the mental health of teens and young adults. Researchers studied the impact of type 1 diabetes on 150 patients between the ages of 11 and 25 years old. They found that 11.3% screened positive for depression, 20.7% for disordered eating, and 21.3% for anxiety. Nearly 15% had two or more positive screens. When the researchers adjusted for age and insurance status, having at least one positive mental health screen had a twofold greater likelihood of poor diabetes management.
During adolescence, teens and young adults place a higher priority on peer relationships and experimenting with risky behaviors, while also having a difficult time understanding consequences. Teens are also asserting independence and forming their own identity and interests separate from their parents. Most of the time, that doesn’t involve managing a chronic medical condition, and the burden of management, as well as the social isolation of being “different” from friends, can contribute to depression and anxiety.
All of this can be very overwhelming for the parent of a teen with diabetes as well. How do you keep them healthy and safe while also encouraging normal adolescent development? Steps that parents can take are:
- Communicating with each other, and then with their teen, about their expectations.
- Planning how to meet those expectations, and what support and resources are needed.
- Assessing the success of meeting those expectations. Where does the teen need extra help? Where do you need extra support?
- Follow-up discussion to evaluate how things are working, and then making a new plan for adjusting and altering the plan to meet the unique needs of the family.
This issue is especially near and dear to my heart because I have lived with type 1 diabetes since I was 8 years old. So, I experienced the teen years with diabetes and lived to tell about it. And so did my parents!