Coping with Depression and Diabetes

Most people know that poorly managed diabetes is associated with physical complications such as retinopathy (persistent or acute damage to the retina of the eye) and kidney failure. But did you know that diabetes is also associated with depression?

In Singapore, a study found that the prevalence rate of depressive symptoms in a sample population of people with diabetes was 31.1%1. That’s almost a third of the participants in the study! Some of the risk factors for depressive symptoms included living with the illness for at least 10 years and HbA1c levels of ≥7%.


Depression looks different in everyone, but here are some common symptoms:

– Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day

– Significantly diminished interest or pleasure in most activities

– Significant weight change or change in appetite

– Difficulties with sleep

– Psychomotor agitation or retardation

– Fatigue or loss of energy

– Feelings of guilt and worthlessness

– Impaired concentration or indecisiveness

– Recurrent thoughts of death, or suicidal ideation/attempts

These symptoms would have to be present almost every day for at least two weeks. One can have a diagnosis of clinical depression when at least five symptoms are experienced – with one of them being either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in activities.


Can we treat it?

Fortunately, depression is easily treatable! Medication and psychotherapy are the typical treatments. However, you may not require medication in mild cases of depression.

It’s worth remembering that even if you don’t meet the criteria for clinical depression, you can still experience depressive symptoms because it occurs on a continuum. Whether it’s sub-clinical or severe, untreated depression can impact the way you manage your diabetes.

How to treat depression

Increase activity level

There are some things you can do if you believe you’re experiencing depressive symptoms. Firstly, increase your activity level. This doesn’t mean just physical activity. It can be anything you enjoy (e.g. scrapbooking) or have been neglecting (e.g. doing the weekly grocery shop). This can be hard as many people with depression may say they lack motivation to get started on these activities. But if you increase your activity level, you’ll begin to feel better. You can use a calendar or planner to start!


Reach out

Fall back on your support system, and let them know when you need help. The people in your support system can also help to keep you on track with any scheduled activities you may have. This includes keeping you company when walking the dog, or helping you prepare appropriate meals.


Seek professional support

Lastly, seek professional support. It’s important for a professional to rule out medical or organic causes for the symptoms you experience. After which, professionals can suggest a recommended depression treatment path for you.
In Singapore, you can seek treatment from any restructured hospital. You’ll pay subsidised rates if you have a referral from a polyclinic; if you don’t mind paying private rates, then you can bypass the usual long waiting times and call for an appointment with the hospital directly.
In restructured hospitals, a psychiatrist will typically see you first, and then refer you to a psychologist for psychotherapy. You can also choose to see psychologists or counsellors in private practise settings.


You can definitely take control over how you manage depression and diabetes. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at

1 Verma, S.K., Luo, N., Subramaniam, M., Sum, C.F., Stahl, D., Liow, P.H., & Chong, S.A. (2010). Impact of depression on health related quality of life in patients with diabetes. Annals of the Academy of Medicine Singapore, 39, 913-919.

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