Living with diabetes and a serious mental illness

Living with the burden of diabetes can be really hard, and having a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder (manic depression) can make things feel overwhelming, confusing, tiring or unpleasant.

Your serious mental illness can make you believe things that may not be true or hear voices that aren’t there. This can make it very difficult to follow all the advice you get about diet, exercise and diabetes medication. Sometimes it can feel that no one understands you. But there is help available to help you.

Your serious mental illness and how it affects your diabetes:

  • It takes a lot of energy, thought and planning to manage your diabetes. Even if you didn’t have a serious mental illness, it would be difficult but it may be extra hard for you.
  • Having a serious mental illness can make you feel tired and as if everything is too much effort. You may feel that there is no point in being healthy.
  • Your serious mental illness may mean that you hear voices that distract you from looking after yourself.
  • Your voices may even tell you to do things that you shouldn’t do, like eat a lot of sugary snacks.
  • The voices may tell you not to listen to your diabetes nurse or doctor, or not to go to the appointments. They may even tell you that you don’t have diabetes and don’t need the medication or diet advice.
  • Some voices can be nice and friendly and keep you from being lonely, and some can be horrible and make you frightened.
  • You may believe that you don’t have diabetes or that you can cure yourself, or that medication you have been prescribed is bad for you.

Anti-psychotic medication:

  • Taking anti-psychotic medication is often an important part of managing your condition, but these medications can also change how your body metabolises by causing weight gain and raising your blood glucose levels. They also increase your risk of developing diabetes.

  • Explain to your mental health team or GP that they should review your anti-psychotic medication regularly including the effect medication has on your diabetes.

  • It is important you do not stop taking your anti-psychotic medication without talking to your mental health team or GP first. It can be dangerous to stop taking anti-psychotic medication suddenly and can increase your risk of relapse.

What the professionals should be doing for you:

  • Your GP or psychiatric team should be monitoring your blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and your blood sugar for diabetes control.
  • Your GP, psychiatric team and diabetes team should be working with each other to make sure that your serious mental illness and diabetes are well looked after and not affecting each other in a bad way.

What other help is there for you?

  • You can join a hearing voices group where there will be other people coping with similar experiences as you, and you can help each other. Ask your GP or psychiatric team if you would like to be referred to a Hearing Voices Group.
  • Talk to your GP or psychiatric nurse or doctor if the beliefs or voices change, are getting scary, or difficult to manage.
  • OR you can call 0300 1234 244 any time of day or night if you live in Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing or Hounslow. If you live in Brent, Harrow, Hillingdon Westminster or Kensington and Chelsea call 0800 0234 6500 any time of the day or night.