When your child has diabetes, you’re used to watching for symptoms of unmanaged blood sugar. But there’s another set of symptoms you should be on the lookout for – especially as your child becomes a teen. These signs are indicative of another “D word:” depression.
Research studies indicate that adults with diabetes have nearly twice the risk for depression, and nearly 30 percent of all people with diabetes suffer from depression. In addition, close to 1 in 7 children claim they have symptoms of depression. This is nearly double the incidence of depression in kids without diabetes.
Here are tips for recognizing and dealing with depression in your child with diabetes:
1. Know the symptoms of depression. These include:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Excessive crying
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, such as spending time with friends or playing games
- Low levels of energy or unusual sleepiness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite or eating binges
- Problems at school, such as lower grades or missed classes
2. Be aware of the vicious cycle of diabetes and depression. While diabetes can increase your child’s risk of depression, depression can increase your child’s risk of problems with diabetes – since depressed kids may neglect their diabetes care. Subpar care can lead to medical problems, which in turn, may trigger more depression.
3. Encourage your child to have a proactive attitude. When kids use problem-solving techniques to deal with their diabetes, they feel more in control. Denial, avoidance or wishful thinking about diabetes can lead to further depressive symptoms.
4. Have your child screened for depression annually. According to the American Diabetes Association, screenings should begin at age 10 and be performed by a social worker or psychologist.
5. Use nonjudgmental language. Try not to put your child on the spot. To help determine if they’re depressed, simply state what you’ve observed. For example, you might say, “I noticed you’re spending more time alone in your room and that you’ve been crying.”
6. Rely on professional diagnosis and treatment. People who try to deal with depression on their own have a low success rate.
7. Seek counseling, if needed. Before trying medication as an easy fix, see if “talk therapy” works.
8. Involve the whole family. Depression treatment is usually more successful if all family members are supportive.
9. Be nurturing. Research studies show that positive encouragement works much better than nagging or lecturing. An example of nurturing behavior is praising your child for checking their blood sugar.
10. Urge your child to connect with peers. By sharing feelings with other children who have diabetes, your child will probably not feel so alone. The emotional support can be invaluable.
11. Focus on non-diabetes topics. Kids don’t want to talk about their diabetes all the time. When they come home from school, ask about other things besides how they managed their diabetes that day.
12. Use the ‘health coach’ at Akron Children’s. Kevin Triemstra, PhD, is a licensed pediatric psychologist who serves as part of Akron Children’s diabetes team and sees patients either at the hospital or on an outpatient basis.
As if raising children with diabetes wasn’t already challenging, dealing with depression adds a whole new layer of issues. Consequently, it’s important for you, as a parent, to be aware of your own feelings and to seek professional help, if needed.
For additional information about diabetes, visit Akron Children’s Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology.