Living with this chronic disease can be stressful. A psychologist can help.

Every 21 seconds, an American receives a diagnosis of diabetes.

Physicians, nurses and their patients aren't the only ones who are alarmed. Psychologists, too, are taking action against a disease characterized by a complex interplay of physical and psychological factors.

Take depression, for example. Some studies suggest that depression may actually increase an individual's risk for developing Type-II diabetes. In fact, some studies have found that depressed people are two to three times more likely to develop diabetes than non-depressed people.

And once someone has diabetes, the disease can also affect their mental state. A review of the literature, published in 2001 in Diabetes Care, found that the depression rate among individuals with diabetes was almost double that of the general population.

Even early on, diabetes can cause several types of mental processing to slow down, according to a 2009 study in Neuropsychology.

How to manage diabetes

Coping with a chronic disease can be stressful. Psychological interventions can help:

  • Follow your doctor's orders. An international study in 2001 revealed that less than a third of diabetes patients followed the diet, exercise and medication regimens their health-care providers recommended. A psychologist can help you find ways to adhere to your treatment regimen. In a 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a lifestyle intervention that included individualized counseling on behavior change reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.
  • Come to terms with your feelings. Acknowledging your negative feelings about diabetes may actually help you keep your glucose levels stable, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. That's because trying to avoid those thoughts can lead to more stress. Some study participants learned coping strategies via a technique called acceptance and commitment therapy; others only received information on such topics as diet and exercise. Three months after the workshop, the number of people with acceptable blood sugar levels jumped 23 percent for those receiving the psychological intervention. In the group who received only education, the number dropped by 2 percent.
  • Manage your stress. Learning new coping skills can help you reduce stress. If you're afraid of overindulging in restaurants, for example, you could plan your meal ahead of time. A psychologist can help you develop effective strategies for identifying and reducing sources of stress.