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Many people with diabetes suffer depression, which can interfere with their ability to manage their diabetes through monitoring blood sugar levels, being active, eating healthy and taking their medications, the researchers noted.
This study included diabetes patients in a rural, low-income area of central North Carolina. Nearly 16 percent of people in this area have diabetes, compared with 10 percent of people nationally. Thirty percent of these diabetes patients have depression and 65 percent are poor, the study authors wrote.
Researchers referred 182 patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes and depression to a diabetes educator and also to a mental health coach, who helped them find ways to deal with the stresses and challenges in their lives. They had an average of three visits with the mental health coach.
After three months, the patients' anxiety and depression scores fell by an average of 49 percent, and their A1C levels (a test that determines average blood sugar levels over several months) dropped from an average of 8.8 percent to 7.7 percent. Diabetes patients typically try to get their A1C levels below 7 percent.
The study was presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, in Orlando, Fla. Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
"The program was to be piloted for a two-year period but has been so powerful [that] we have continued it," Melissa Herman, diabetes educator and program director of the Diabetes & Nutrition Education Center of FirstHealth of the Carolinas, said in an association news release.
"While healthy coping is an essential part of diabetes education, mental health coaching takes it to another level for people who struggle with depression. Those who had mental health coaching said it was life-changing, lifesaving and helped them feel better and happier than they had in a long time," she added.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American Association of Diabetes Educators, news release, Aug. 6, 2014