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Diabetes burnout - what are the signs and how can dietitians help?

By Paula Goodyer

There’s no such thing as a holiday from diabetes - and for some people the constant vigilance of managing blood glucose levels can bring diabetes burnout, meaning they feel so overwhelmed or frustrated by their condition that they take less care of themselves.

“Burnout affects people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. They feel as if diabetes is managing them  -not them managing their diabetes, “ says Renza Scibilia, Manager-Type I Diabetes and Consumer Voice at Diabetes Australia. “There are so many things that can affect blood glucose levels - it’s not just food and activity, but stress and anxiety. For women, hormone levels can make a difference too. Even the stigma that can come with having diabetes can contribute - it’s one more thing you have to deal with on top of everything else.”

What are clues a client may have diabetes burnout - or is heading that way?

“One sign could be if they’re not managing their blood glucose as well as they’d like - another could be not turning up to appointments or repeatedly cancelling appointments,” Renza says. 

“It can also be how people talk - if they sound negative, saying things like ‘I can never enjoy food again’, for instance, - or ‘I’m no good at coping with this,’ ” says Caroline Clark, a dietitian with Diabetes NSW & ACT. “Someone might also say ‘just tell me what to do - I don’t want to understand it’. This could mean they’re genuinely not interested in details - but it could also be a sign of trying to avoid coming to grips with diabetes.”

How can dietitians help?

Aim to be a good listener - and mindful of your own prejudices. “It’s important to be mindful of stigma and our own prejudice as health professionals when working with people living with diabetes,” says Caroline. “Client-centred, supportive environments where people feel they can talk without judgement, help to keep clients engaged with services.”

Get to know what’s going on in their life. “If someone’s blood glucose management isn’t great, try to encourage clients to explore why,” she says. “Could it be that they’re not sleeping well and eating more to keep their energy levels up, for example? Or are they comfort eating excessively for some reason?"

Help people get support “People living with diabetes are often referred to podiatrists and ophthalmologists but if they’re distressed they may also need a psychologist,” adds Renza Scibilia who blogs at Diabetogenic  “Diabetes can be isolating - it can help to talk to other people living with the condition and get tips on how they cope. Diabetes organisations in each state can put people in touch with local support groups.”

Get in touch with their GP. “If a client seems to have given up trying to manage their blood glucose levels, tell their GP that you’re concerned,” Caroline Clark says.