How Can Employers Address Diabetes Distress?

The physical health effects of diabetes are well-known: heart disease, damage to nerves, eyes, kidneys, feet, skin and more. However, many people have never heard of the mental health consequences of diabetes – diabetes distress.

Diabetes distress is the emotional by-product of the strain of living with diabetes and having to manage the condition incessantly. At least 20 percent of the more than 37 million Americans living with diabetes experience diabetes distress. The greater a person’s diabetes distress, the higher the likelihood they will neglect proper management of the condition.

Managing diabetes can feel like a full-time job that never provides a day off. Blood sugar checks, medications, healthier eating plans, physical activity, treatments, and all the related anxiety, stress, and depression are a 24/7/365 situation. And when mental health needs are not being met, they have more negative health outcomes, higher annual medical expenditures and a greater risk of dying from diabetes or related conditions.

Diabetes is already one of the most expensive diseases affecting U.S. employers. Add the strain of the mental health impact of diabetes distress and employers can see increased absence, turnover, and health care costs.

With one in 10 Americans living with diabetes, employers can and should spotlight the condition and its related diabetes distress.

Digging deeper into diabetes distress: The relationship between diabetes and mental health

A new diagnosis of diabetes can be overwhelming – facing adjustments to routines and lifestyles, adding medications, and tracking blood glucose are only one factor.

Employers with health and wellness programs frequently address diabetes and the physical aspects of living with the condition. Unfortunately, the mental and emotional elements of diabetes management are often overlooked.

People living with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from depression than people without diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When people with diabetes experience depression, they are less likely to receive mental health treatment or assistance. Additionally:

  • They are more likely to have issues managing their condition and medications.
  • Diabetes distress can lead to the very habits and patterns that exacerbate diabetes-related health problems: smoking, an unhealthy diet, little or no exercise and more.
  • Stressed, depressed, and anxious employees are less productive, require more time off, and utilize more health care resources.

The physical changes that often accompany diabetes can add stress as well. Spikes and drops in blood sugar can lead to confusion, indecision, jitters, sluggishness and even loss of consciousness or seizures. The need to continuously focus on keeping blood glucose levels within safe ranges can produce a lot of anxiety, but also become a slippery slope to disordered eating such as anorexia and bulimia – which is surprisingly common in patients living with diabetes. 

Helping your employees manage diabetes distress

Living with and managing diabetes can feel crushing. The good news is that a robust support network can make a positive difference. Everything from comprehensive health care to employer assistance can help people successfully manage diabetes and related diabetes distress.

In fact, according to a Roche Diabetes Care study, 84 percent of employees with diabetes said that, with company support, they would feel more confident and 78 percent said they would feel less stressed at work. More than 80 percent said a personalized, company-sponsored program would make them less likely to hide their condition. This spotlights the often-unmet need for support for people with diabetes in the workplace, revealing an opportunity for employers to take a more active role in the health and well-being of their employees.

So, how can employers best assist employees living with diabetes?

1. Address mental health

While the majority of employers say employee mental health and burnout are an area of priority focus, less than half had a comprehensive strategy to address well-being.

Prioritizing mental health in the workplace is vital and segmenting that focus to include mental health related to specific conditions like diabetes is just as important. Diabetes and mental health are widely stigmatized. Addressing both in relation to each other can open communication pathways and destigmatize both.

Your organization can offer an array of resources and continuously communicate those mental health resources to ensure employees are aware of them. Most importantly, ask your employees what their mental health needs are and truly listen to help provide support and solutions.

2. Address social health

Work relationships are often a large part of employees’ lives, helping build trust and community within the workplace.

More meaningful work relationships and socially engaged teams reduce feelings of loneliness is crucial to those facing additional stressors related to diabetes. Moreover, employers, managers and colleagues can provide important social support to those facing diabetes distress, improving well-being and creating a community to rely on.

Create opportunities for employees to connect socially and work to build social well-being in the workplace. From providing information, advice, and emotional support to sharing coping strategies, strong social networks can help reduce stress and anxiety.

There is a strong link between individuals with solid social support and positive outcomes for mental and physical health conditions.

3. Integrate resilience into workplace culture

For employees living with diabetes, it’s important to understand that every day is different, and no one gets it right 100 percent of the time. As much effort your employees may put into their diabetes care, they may not see the numbers they want. Resilience is necessary to help cope with stress and unexpected challenges and thrive in various situations.

Understanding what is causing diabetes distress can help employees learn how to cope. This includes discussing how workplace stressors can compound with existing stress from diabetes. In this, it is crucial for employers to identify primary workplace stress, which can include:

  • Company culture
  • Job requirements, tasks, and demands
  • Work environment and support
  • Relationships with colleagues and managers

These factors, especially when coupled with the physical and mental stressors related to diabetes, can exacerbate diabetes distress.

Employers have a responsibility to create an optimal environment for employees. They must model vulnerability, encourage everyone to bring their whole selves to work, and acknowledge that employees are humans!

When employees feel safe asking for help, answers, or advice, they gain resilience. And by minimizing these workplace stressors and building resilience in one’s workforce, employers can help employees reduce diabetes distress.

4. Support self-care during work hours

Diabetes doesn’t wait for lunch breaks or after work hours. One reason people with diabetes experience increased stress is they must focus continually on caring for themselves – taking medication, checking blood sugar, eating specific foods at the right times, moving their bodies and more.

A workplace that does not offer flexible scheduling, regularly holds lunchtime meetings, or does not provide private spaces for employees to manage diabetes while onsite makes it more difficult for employees with diabetes to care for themselves.

Encourage all employees to take breaks for physical activity throughout the day and provide opportunities for them to do so. Offer flexibility for scheduling medical appointments. If an event involves food or beverages, supply an array of options that include healthier choices for those who want or need them. For employees who need to inject medications, offer sharps containers and private spaces designated for them to take the time they need to administer their medicine safely and calmly.

Untangle diabetes distress with Aduro® Connect Care

Diabetes can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. Additionally, it can raise everyday costs and health expenses for employees with diabetes, and increase costs related to absenteeism and reduced productivity for employers. Using a program such as Aduro® Connect Care can address the biological, behavioral, and psychological factors affecting employees’ abilities to proactively manage diabetes.

Aduro’s Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (CDCES) support members through real-time phone and video calls, one-on-one chats, and group interactions. They also provide community support through group coaching workshops. Connect Care is easily accessible on an employee’s mobile device and is designed to improve each member’s “time in range” for blood glucose monitoring and other metrics.

Connect Care is fully integrated with Aduro’s Mental Health program, offering expert coaching, mental health resources, and tailored content to support employee well-being. Members are assessed for diabetes distress and, if they qualify, they are offered a consultation with Mental Health coaches and have 24/7/365 access to content and tools to support mental health and diabetes management.

Discover how Aduro® Connect Care can help your employees in every aspect of their diabetes management.