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New study identifies factors which contribute to psychological distress in diabetes patients

16 September 2013 Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI)

Researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Department of Sociology in University College Cork (UCC) have identified a number of factors which cause psychological distress in young adults with type 1 diabetes. They also discovered that patients feel frustrated over not having access to psychological support; something which patients believe can moderate this diabetes-related stress.

The research found a number of factors that can trigger diabetes-related psychological distress in young people with type 1 diabetes. These include self-consciousness, stigma attached to the illness, diabetes management difficulties, waiting times and lack of joined up care in the current healthcare system, concerns about the future and apprehension about pregnancy. The study found that young people are often reluctant to open up and speak about such psychological issues.

Type 1 diabetes typically develops in children and young adults. In this form of diabetes, the body stops producing insulin and the body's blood sugar (glucose) level increases. Treatment to control the blood glucose level is through insulin injections supported by a healthy diet.

The study, funded by the Diabetes Ireland Research Alliance and the Health Research Board (HRB), investigated the causes of this psychological distress by conducting in-depth interviews with young Irish adults in their twenties with type 1 diabetes and healthcare professionals who work closely with these young adults.

Co-investigator of the study, Professor Seamus Sreenan, Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology at Connolly Hospital and Director of the RCSI Graduate Entry Programme said, 'We focused on people in their twenties because this is a time in the lives of many young people where they are beginning their careers, starting relationships and moving to adult health services, all the while trying to manage their diabetes. This can lead some young people to feel overwhelmed.'

The research found that diabetes-related psychological distress can be moderated by having opportunities to talk to healthcare professionals about their frustrations, attending diabetes education programmes and joining peer support groups. Young Irish diabetes patients are reluctant to open up and speak about psychological issues with healthcare professionals due to infrequent and short clinical appointment times and unfamiliarity with their clinician.

Prof Sreenan explained, 'Psychological distress is an important issue in young people with type 1 diabetes in this age group. We believe the findings indicate the importance of healthcare professionals focusing on the emotional states of young people with diabetes, as well as their physical condition.'

Young Irish adults are now turning to social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, for social and psychological support instead of seeking this from healthcare professionals.
The subjects of the study felt that having opportunities to talk to healthcare professionals about diabetes distress should be a component of standard diabetes care.

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