What’s New in Diabetes Management: Psychosocial Care

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Complex environmental, social, behavioral, and emotional issues—known as psychosocial factors—influence the health of people living with diabetes, as well as their ability to manage it. The American Diabetes Association issued its first position statement on psychosocial care, which provides important guidance for practitioners.



The wide array of comorbidities and treatment variables can make diabetes a difficult disease to manage—and to live with. Providers must be equipped to address the complexities and complications that affect patients with diabetes. In December 2016, the American Diabetes Association published a position statement recognizing the psychosocial factors (environmental, social, behavioral, and emotional) that affect medical outcomes and psychological well-being in persons with diabetes. These include self-management, diabetes distress, psychological comorbidities, and life-course considerations.1


A patient’s perception of his or her ability to self-manage diabetes is an important psychosocial factor in treatment and management outcomes. Training patients with diabetes in self-care skills and the use of technologies­—at the time of diagnosis, annually, and/or when complications or transitions in care occur—can empower patients to assume an active role in their daily management. These interventions can be tailored to address specific, individualized problems that contribute to suboptimal glycemic outcomes, such as issues in numeracy or coping, food insecurity, or lack of support. Employing a nonjudgmental approach that normalizes periodic lapses in self-management may help encourage patients and minimize their resistance to self-management.


The frustration, worry, anger, guilt, and burnout imposed by diabetes and its management (via glucose monitoring, medication dosing, and insulin titration) is known as diabetes distress. With a reported prevalence of 18% to 45%, this disease burden is quite common.2 Because high levels of diabetes distress are associated with low self-efficacy, poor glycemic outcomes, and suboptimal exercise/dietary habits, referral for counseling should be considered if a patient expresses feelings of distress.

Use of validated screening tools, such as Problem Areas in Diabetes (PAID)3,4 or the Diabetes Distress Scale (DDS)5, can aid in routine monitoring for diabetes distress. (See the Table for more information.) If distress is identified in specific self-care areas, further patient education on self-management is appropriate.

Selected Screening Tools for Psychosocial Comorbidities in Patients With Diabetes image


Depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and serious mental illness (eg, schizophrenia) are known psychological comorbidities of diabetes. Screening for symptoms using patient-appropriate, standardized/validated tools should occur at initial visit, at periodic intervals, and when there is a change in disease, treatment, or life circumstance.


Patients with diabetes should be screened for depression when medical status worsens or when complications occur; it is recommended to include caregivers and family members in this assessment. Patients who screen positive for depression should be referred to mental health providers who have experience with cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, or other evidence-based treatment approaches, and who can provide collaborative care alongside the diabetes treatment team. Once diagnosed with depression, patients should be screened annually.


Expression of fear, dread, or irrational thoughts, avoidant and/or repetitious behaviors, and social withdrawal are signs of anxiety that should prompt screening. Consider screening for anxiety in patients who express worry about diabetes complications, insulin injections or infusion, taking medications, and/or hypoglycemia that interferes with self-management behaviors.

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