Public Release: 

Psychology plays a vital role in tackling diabetes

Special issue of APA journal reviews how psychology helps battle disease

American Psychological Association

WASHINGTON - Individuals and families affected by diabetes must navigate a complex mix of medical, behavioral and social changes in which psychology plays an integral role, according to the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association.

In a special issue of American Psychologist® entitled "Diabetes and Psychology," researchers review the current and potential contributions of psychological science to the well-being of people with or at risk of developing diabetes, including the role of family and social connections, changing technology, behavioral intervention programs and identification and treatment of mental disorders associated with diabetes itself.

"Diabetes is a common, chronic and costly condition that currently affects millions of people in the United States and worldwide, with even greater numbers at high risk for developing the disease," said Christine Hunter, PhD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. "Behavioral, psychological and social factors play an important role in the delay or prevention of type 2 diabetes as well as the self-management and coping skills required to prevent or delay complications in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Psychologists and psychological research have an important role to play in improving the prevention and care of diabetes."

Hunter was a scholarly lead for the issue along with Deborah Wiebe, PhD, of the University of California, Merced, and Vicki Helgeson, PhD, of Carnegie Mellon University.

Among the 10 articles in the special issue:

"Understanding Diabetes and the Role of Psychology in its Prevention and Treatment," by Hunter.

This article provides an overview of the scope of diabetes and the importance of psychologists for improving disease management and quality of life. It reviews the contributions of the behavioral and social sciences toward improved diabetes prevention and treatment and identifies opportunities for psychologists to close the gap in research and training to meet the challenges of diabetes today and into the future.

Contact: Christine Hunter

"The Social Context of Managing Diabetes Across the Lifespan," by Wiebe, Helgeson, and Cynthia Berg, PhD, University of Utah.

People with diabetes must expend effort every day to manage their disease in order to maintain their health and well-being. Relationships with family, friends, romantic partners and health care providers provide an important context for managing diabetes. This article examines how these social resources change across the lifespan and how diabetes both affects and is affected by these key relationships at different points in life. The authors use two established psychological theories--interpersonal theory and self-determination theory--to identify aspects of family, partner, peer and provider relationships central to managing diabetes across the lifespan.

Contact: Deborah Wiebe

"Psychosocial Factors in Medication Adherence and Diabetes Self-Management: Implications for Research and Practice," by Jeffrey Gonzalez, PhD, Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Molly Tanenbaum, PhD, Stanford University; and Persis Commissariat, PhD, Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston.

Managing diabetes requires a demanding treatment regimen involving multiple health behaviors, such as taking oral and/or self-injected medications, eating well, staying physically active and monitoring one's blood glucose. This article examines the evidence for how select psychosocial factors, including knowledge and beliefs, emotional distress and well-being, and behavior skills and coping, can affect people's ability to manage their diabetes.

Contact: Jeffrey Gonzalez

"Psychological Conditions in Adults with Diabetes," by Mary de Groot, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine; Sherita Hill Golden, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Julie Wagner, PhD, University of Connecticut Health Sciences Center.

The emotional and behavioral demands of managing diabetes, in conjunction with other life stressors, predispose adults with diabetes to develop multiple psychological conditions. This article summarizes the prevalence, impact and treatment of the primary co-occurring psychological conditions: depressive syndromes, anxiety disorders, disordered eating and serious mental illness.

Contact: Mary de Groot

"Psychology, Technology and Diabetes Management," by Linda Gonder-Frederick, PhD, Jaclyn Shepard, PsyD, Jesse Grabman, BA, and Lee Ritterband, PhD, University of Virginia.

Technological advances have fine-tuned patients' ability to monitor blood glucose and administer insulin to themselves. For example, the artificial pancreas illustrates the potential of technology to simulate a tightly controlled, closed system. This article summarizes new developments in telemedicine, internet interventions and mobile applications, and explores theoretical models underlying human factors that influence individuals' use of these new technologies.

Contact: Linda Gonder-Frederick

"Evidence-Based Behavioral Interventions to Promote Diabetes Management in Children, Adolescents and Families," by Marisa Hilliard, PhD; Priscilla Powell, PhD; and Barbara Anderson, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

As members of multidisciplinary diabetes care teams, psychologists are well suited to support youth with diabetes and their families. Psychological and behavioral interventions can help young people adhere to a complex and demanding diabetes care regimen. This article reviews contemporary behavioral interventions to promote more optimal diabetes family- and self-management, summarizes the evidence for established diabetes skills training programs and family interventions and introduces emerging evidence for technology and mobile health interventions and health care delivery system interventions.

Contact: Barbara Anderson


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The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 117,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

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