This week marks another Mental Illness Awareness Week, which runs from Oct. 5 to 11, 2014.
The effort is pretty self-explanatory: it's all about activities and initiatives to educate the public about mental health issues. And here in our Diabetes Community, that's a big topic.
It's something many of us have written about and advocated for in recent years, and it's a personal issue I've struggled with myself in the past. And some days, it still feels as though I'm battling those demons.
That's why it's encouraging to see all the great movement on this topic, just in the past year.
Almost exactly a year ago, we saw the first-ever National Mental Health Issues of Diabetes (MHID) conference in Washington D.C., an event spearheaded by a longtime diabetes advocate who's most well-known for co-founding the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (now the JDRF) way back in 1970. Yes, D-Mom Lee Ducat in Pennsylvania saw a need to raise discussion about mental issues in the context of diabetes, and for the first time ever, brought an expert lineup of professionals and advocates together to focus on this sensitive issue. (See our preview coverage here.)
Since last October, Lee has created a foundation to follow up on these efforts -- bringing together mental health and diabetes experts with many patients wishing to share their own stories about the emotional and mental health challenges they've faced. A full report on the ripple effects of last year's conference may soon be published in the professional medical journal Diabetes Care, something that those-in-the-know say is pretty significant in itself.
"Honestly, I didn't think they would even consider it, but it's under review now, and it would be a big deal to have (an article on diabetes and depression) in such a high-visibility journal. Two years ago, it wouldn't have happened. But there's been an awakening..." says Dr. Barb Anderson from Baylor College of Medicine, a featured speaker at last year's conference.
Indeed, earlier this year, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a piece entitled, "The Mental Health Issues of Diabetes," with Lee and Barb Anderson both listed as authors. In fact, the article doesn't really report anything that isn't already well-known and publicized: people with diabetes are more prone to mental health struggles, and despite some controversy over the differences between "true depression" and "simple distress," the whole mental health game is a costly one for PWDs and goes hand-in-hand with the relative success of our D-management.
Lee says she's been encouraged by all the recent discussion; it seems experts and medical professionals are more interested than ever addressing this along with patients who are talking more openly about their struggles (thanks, Internet!). Anderson adds that with all of the healthcare reform and insurance coverage changes at the moment, this is a perfect time to weave mental health topics into core diabetes care.
"I think everyone came out of that conference last year wanting to push this to the next level," Anderson says. "A big takeaway was that we all need to work together more effectively, instead of against each other. We can't do it individually, because the changes are so massive."
She hopes more medical schools will look at including mental issues into their training programs, making it clear that doctors and other other healthcare providers have to address the mental side of illness in their protocols and attitudes if they want to effectively treat patients -- because patients need more than just instructions, they need support and "whole person" care.
"From where I sit, there's a lot of stress and distress that comes directly from dealing with the healthcare system," Anderson adds. "No one is doing this on purpose. But from day one, our families are set up to fail with unrealistic goals -- 'if you follow all the doctor's orders, you will be OK.' We know that just isn't the case, and it puts a lot of burden on people with diabetes. There's a whole shift in mindset that has to happen."
So, what's next? That's not clear. But Lee tells us: "At this point there are no plans for another conference, but perhaps a series of small meetings of the top experts to move the field forward."
Hopefully, that's changing. Our mental health is on the line, after all!