Mental Health and Diabetes: A Surprising Connection

Mental illness and diabetes are both major problems for adults in the United States. If a recent report is correct, those struggling with their mental health might be at greater risk of later becoming diabetic.

The Brain and the Bloodstream

Issued by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), this report analyzed the health of over 15,000 individuals, all of whom had a history of
severe mental illness. Type 2 diabetes was far more prevalent among this group than in the general American adult population; specifically, over 28
percent of the participants had this condition, compared to roughly 12 percent of adults overall. The numbers were even more alarming for nonwhite subjects. The UCSF team noted that type 2 diabetes was present in 30 percent of Asians, 36 percent of Blacks and 37 percent of Hispanics.

Calculating Risk

So what could explain this apparent connection between mental health woes and diabetes? The study’s senior author, UCSF psychiatry professor Christina Mangurian, contends that medicines commonly used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders may be partially to blame. “Antipsychotic
medications prescribed for conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may cause weight gain and impact cholesterol levels and insulin resistance,” stated Mangurian in a university press release. Mangurian also noted that those living with severe mental illness must grapple with “food insecurity, low income and unstable housing situations,” all of which could increase diabetes risk. The UCSF team also found a similar relationship between mental health and pre-diabetes. In fact, nearly half of the study participants were found to have this condition, a rate far higher than the
overall adult population in the US. As with Type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes was more prevalent among racial and ethnic minorities. Given the study’s findings, the authors conclude that all patients with severe mental illness should undergo diabetes testing. If such screening reveals the presence of pre-diabetes, doctors can subsequently work to prevent the development
of diabetes via medical interventions and lifestyle adjustments.

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