College with T1D: When Mental Health Affects Blood Sugars
Your late teens and early 20s can be a time of big transitions—and those new experiences may feel even more intense if you are managing type 1 diabetes independently for the first time. Moving away from home, or starting college or a full-time job are intense experiences as it is.
If managing type 1 diabetes amid big life changes seems extra hard, you’re not alone.
Young men can struggle with mental health, too
Regardless of your age, managing type 1 diabetes can fluctuate between doable and really challenging. You may experience periods of feeling overwhelmed or resentful at the burden of dealing with it all. At the end of the day, taking care of your mental well-being is just as important as checking your blood sugars and taking your insulin.
And, caring for your mental well-being can positively impact your diabetes care.
Men and boys are too often socialized to internalize negative feelings and struggles, and as a result, are more likely to feel isolated and not seek mental health services or other types of support.
On top of entering the adult world—either at college or in the workplace—you may also need to find a new diabetes care team. Suddenly finding yourself without your usual support system may also prompt you to reevaluate your diabetes management plan.
In this series, young men living with type 1 diabetes discuss managing their health in college, in their professional lives, and their overall approach to self-care and mental health.
For Adrian Milanio, Self-care is an essential part of diabetes management
Adrian Milanio, 24, from Tacoma, Washington, has lived with diabetes for eight years. During college, Adrian noticed when his mental health suffered, so did his diabetes management.
“When I’m mentally tired from having diabetes or even just dealing with like high blood sugars, it definitely affects the way I treat my diabetes day-to-day,” Adrian says.
We all know new stressors or sources of change can impact your diabetes management––maybe you’ve relaxed how often you check your blood sugar and are eyeballing your insulin dosing. It could also be a new job environment doesn’t give you a way to easily store your insulin or supplies and you’re not comfortable asking for accommodations. Or, your predictable routine has been upended by late nights now spent studying, working or socializing.
“Sometimes I get a little bit sloppy with taking my insulin, or I get hypervigilant and overcorrect and do things that stress me out more. It can be this vicious cycle,” Adrian says.
Periods of transition can be a time where working with a skilled professional can help you deal with stress, make changes in your management protocol and find ways to fine-tune your diabetes care to account for changes in your life.
“Being able to talk to therapists has definitely opened the door for me to be more understanding of my mental health in the context of type 1 diabetes,” Adrian explains. “I’ve learned what I need to do to decompress from a hard day at work and how that’s impacting my blood sugars.”
“It’s a combination of dealing with the actual symptoms of diabetes, but also understanding I have to manage these things every day––– you can’t really take any days off with diabetes, right,” says Adrian.
Today, Adrian works with nurses as a program manager and also makes music. Surrounding himself with people who understand his diabetes makes a big difference.
“I try and be mindful of my mental health because being able to take care of myself by giving myself empathy, grace and support is what I need in order to continue to take care of my diabetes. It is just as important as taking care of diabetes in and of itself.”
Adrian has also learned how to set reasonable expectations for himself, knowing that making imperfect choices or having a hard day is normal.
“There’s a balance to everything and it is very possible to have a fruitful but exciting, healthy happy lifestyle,” says Adrian, “as long as you like give yourself grace.”
Mental health tends to be a generalized term. There are many kinds of mental health challenges and concerns. Needs range in severity. If working with a professional will help to address your mental health needs, please seek out support.
Check out these resources on how to find mental health support:
- Mental Health Guide for Men + Boys with T1D
- Just Diagnosed with Diabetes? Why and How to Find Mental Health Support
- The T1D Guide for Mental Health Providers
- American Diabetes Association: Mental Health Provider Directory
- How Diabetes Impacts Your Mental Health
Editor’s note: This content was made possible in part with support from Lilly. Beyond Type 1 maintains full editorial control of all content published on our platforms.