Finding Support After a Diabetes Diagnosis: “I didn’t want to admit it was taking such a toll on me.”
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.
Stigma held Dana Grey from getting care for his mental health
When 24-year-old Dana Grey was diagnosed with diabetes in May 2020, it coincided with moving to New York to start his first job after college, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was starting this new chapter of my life and it felt like I was getting held back” by the diagnosis, Dana says.
Your early twenties are already a time of so much change—Dana was learning to manage his type 1 diabetes while living away from family, trying to get established in a new city with a new job and trying to make friends.
A year into his diabetes journey, Dana was discouraged and struggling, on top of feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the effects of the pandemic, but was hesitant to seek help. “I got to a really bad place mentally and was depressed, and it had to do with the stress of the constant worrying and management of the disease.”
Looking back, Dana can see he was impacted by the negative stigma around needing mental health support.
“I didn’t ever want to admit that it was taking such a toll on me that I was kind of letting it impact me to that degree,” he explains.
Confiding in friends was the first step
He finally confided in close friends about how he was feeling and those around him encouraged him to get the support of a therapist. Having people he trusts and respects validate that caring for his mental wellbeing was important helped diffuse the stigma around therapy and mental illness.
It’s not a fluke—men are less likely to access mental health care in the United States, in part, because many individuals are socialized to value self-reliance and toughness, which can be a barrier to speaking up for what they need.
“They were telling me something that was against that public narrative of sorts, and because of that, I felt like it wasn’t a decision I was making alone,” Dana explains.
He sought out a therapist, and in the beginning, he found himself explaining basic information about diabetes. But, even this had its upsides.
“Getting to educate him was actually kind of nice—to share with somebody what I go through every day.”
Now, Dana makes the most of his access to therapy, using his weekly session to talk about the ways diabetes impacts the different facets of his life and gaining tools and perspective to help him cope with the stress and frustration, regardless of its source.
“I was scared and nervous that this new thing, type 1 diabetes, was going to take over my life. I wanted it to be as perfect as possible and that really intense management just wasn’t beneficial for my mental health.”
Therapy has helped him reframe his self-perception and outlook on his diabetes management: “You’re never going to have a perfect day,” he explains.
Finding peer support
Connecting with other people who also live with type 1 diabetes has been another source of support. One way he did that was by joining Beyond Type 1’s Type One Run team to run the New York City Marathon.
“I got to meet 49 other people living with type 1 diabetes and realize that I’m not doing anything crazy wrong, this is just how it goes,” Dana remembers.
When he’s not growing relationships in person, he turns to social media, like the Beyond Type 1 Community app: “Early on in my diagnosis, I would go there for simple things like, where should I put my injections?”
It wasn’t just the information that was useful.
“Even if I’m just feeling a bit alone with the disease, I’ll scroll through and hear other people talking about it,” Dana says. “It can be really comforting to see that community.”
Mental health care as a part of diabetes care
Today, many areas of Dana’s life have benefitted from incorporating talk therapy and medication into his self-care and diabetes management. But, he acknowledges it can be a hard process to initiate.
“I was incredibly against the idea of talking with someone about it. I had really bought into the stigma that talking to a mental health professional was coming off as weak or a call for attention. Dana says. “I put it off for far too long.”
It also motivated him to build a healthcare team that understands how his diabetes and mental health affect one another. He hopes to see more people with type 1 diabetes be able to see past the stigma that discourages them to utilize mental health resources.
“I think most people would be really surprised by how nice it can feel to be able to talk about your disease and the impact that it has on all facets of your life. But then also to see how positive that can be for the rest of your day or week, and how all those little conversations can turn into something really impactful.”
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.
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.