Do you have to be a Mental Health Expert to Tackle Diabetes Distress?

We asked Dr. Lawrence Fisher (see bio below), lead researcher and clinician in the Embark Trial to share his insights on providing best care to people with diabetes. Learn more by joining our ReVive 5 Diabetes Training Program where the team shares evidence-based tools and the step-by step approach utilized in the Embark Study.

Do you have to be a mental health expert to address diabetes distress?

Dr. Lawrence Fisher

Definitely not.

We believe that addressing the emotional side of diabetes is part of comprehensive diabetes care. It is part of living with and managing diabetes over time. Ideally, emotional care is incorporated into regular diabetes check-ups and problem-solving encounters.

Diabetes health care professionals have unique insights into the daily struggles that people living with diabetes experience. They have tremendous awareness, understanding and knowledge about diabetes self-management, including the distress that many people with diabetes experience with varying degrees over a lifetime. Diabetes specialists realize that recognizing and addressing distress is an integral part of providing care and helping people manage their lives around diabetes.

Frankly, there is no other option – Diabetes care professionals are the front line clinicians when it comes to helping people manage their diabetes, and that includes the emotional side of diabetes as well.

However, addressing diabetes distress effectively can be challenging, even for the most experienced diabetes health care professional.  After all, most clinicians don’t receive formal training to address the emotional part of diabetes self-management.  It makes sense that some additional training and support would be of benefit.

That is why we need training programs like ReVive 5, so health care professionals have a safe place to increase their comfort level, enhance their skills, and learn time-efficient strategies that can be applied in clinical practice.

In addition, very few mental health professionals have any experience with diabetes and we have learned that very few people with diabetes follow through on referrals to mental health professionals.

Frankly, there is no other option – Diabetes care professionals are the front line clinicians when it comes to helping people manage their diabetes, and that includes the emotional side of diabetes as well.

We also asked, How does addressing diabetes distress impact glucose levels?

This straightforward question has a relatively complex answer – like most things in clinical care.

Many studies have shown that there is a modest but significant correlation between distress and A1C – the higher the distress, the higher the A1C and vice versa. But this is an ‘association’ and it DOES NOT mean that one CAUSES the other.

We believe that the only modest association between distress and A1C can be explained, at least in part, by examining two related issues.

First, there is a relatively high rate of distress among people with diabetes with A1C levels of 7% or less. The distress that some people in this A1C range feel are associated with fears of hypoglycemia and struggles with eating. In fact, in a recent study, we discovered that about a quarter of participants with an A1C of 7% or less reported significantly elevated levels of diabetes distress. So even people who are reaching target glucose levels can experience significant levels of distress.

The second reason is really interesting, and it has implications for intervention. As mentioned above, in two recent studies, we reported a significant but modest association between distress and A1C. But as we delved into the findings, we discovered that reductions in distress associated with a clinical intervention were only ‘indirectly’ linked with reductions in A1C.

Most importantly, we found that reductions in distress were highly related to improvements in diabetes self-management, which, in turn, were significantly related to reductions in A1C. To say it simply, the reductions in distress were due to improvements in self-management behaviors which led to reductions in A1C.

This is a critical point – because it suggests that health care providers can have the biggest impact by combining distress reduction AND management interventions to improve glucose management as well as help people improve their quality of life.

ReVive 5 Diabetes Training Program Expert Faculty

Dr. Lawrence Fisher’s most recent work focuses on diabetes distress and depression, disease management, and how adults and families struggle over time to manage chronic health conditions.

He has served as a professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco for over 25 years, and he is the Director of The Behavioral Diabetes Research Group at UCSF.

He has conducted multiple cross-sectional and longitudinal NIH- and ADA-supported clinical research with adults with diabetes and their families.

He maintains an active clinical practice at UCSF, has published over 190 peer-reviewed articles on diabetes and related topics, and frequently speaks to both professional and lay groups at local, national, and international meetings and workshops

Join us to gain the confidence and learn the skills needed to support people with diabetes to move forward in their self management and discover the expert within.

Speakers Interviews – Learn more about the ReVive 5 Team


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