The World Health Organization has designated diabetes as the only non-viral epidemic and diabetes drugs continue to be ranked as the second highest cost category for private drug plans, said Lisa Maks, clinical nurse specialist at Juravinski Hospital and St. Peter’s Hospital sites, during a session at Benefits Canada’s 2021 Mental Health Summit.

Eight per cent of Canadians live with diabetes and nearly 80 per cent of this group worry about their condition. It’s normal to feel some despair when dealing with any chronic condition and depression is a frequent diabetes comorbidity, said Maks. However, she explained there’s a lesser-known condition with an equally significant impact called diabetes distress.

Read: A call for more solutions to address the growing diabetes burden

Diabetes distress is a range of emotional responses to living with and managing diabetes. People with diabetes, said Maks, often feel overwhelmed, defeated, discouraged or burned out because they must deal with it every day, all day long. “Diabetes isn’t going to go away and it’s not something they can take a vacation from.”

They get tired of having to pay close attention to their diet, exercise, medications, stress levels and the numerous appointments they must attend. They face additional stress due to the fear of complications associated with diabetes. They are afraid of their glucose going low and bringing attention to themselves and afraid of it going high due to the potential long-term complications.

“People with diabetes fear perceived stigma, especially those with type 2,” said Maks, noting they may be concerned about appearing different than others and how co-workers might perceive them. They may choose not to disclose they have diabetes and may not test their blood or take an injection in front of others. “They may also feel guilt that they brought this condition on themselves.”

Read: A look at the newest innovative medications for diabetes management

According to Maks, up to 50 per cent of people with diabetes have experienced some degree of diabetes distress, which can also have a significant impact on people in their lives. Diabetes distress is linked to poor glycemic management “because stress can cause their sugars to go up” she said. It can also lead to increased drug claims and absenteeism.

“Diabetes care is complex and much more than just controlling glucose levels,” said Maks.

Employers can support their employees with diabetes and help them manage their condition. Technology for glucose monitoring can empower a person with diabetes to self-manage without having to do frequent finger pokes to test their glucose levels. It can also inform their decision-making and give them data they need to adjust their diet, activity and medication.

Read more coverage of the 2021 Mental Health Summit.