Medical professionals must take notice of mental health conditions during chronic illness diagnosis

It’s been all over the news today, Diabulimia, a condition in which a Diabetic person stops taking their insulin to prevent weight gain or fuel weight loss, this can also include bulimic symptoms such as purging.

Newsbeat, BBC Radio 1’s news channel, highlighted one case in particular, diabetic teen, Lisa, whose struggle with Diabulimia ultimately lead to her death. Her family claim that in the years after her diagnosis of Diabetes her Diabulimia appeared, or bulimic tendencies became apparent*, getting increasingly worse over a ten year period. They are therefore linking the discovery of her condition and its subsequent management to her mental health condition.

This case in particular, as well as the condition itself, expresses a deeper issue within healthcare systems. Going through a diagnosis of any long-term or chronic illness is very distressing for the patient and it is unsurprising that mental health issues surface as a result.

It doesn’t take being a medical expert to realise that the discovery of any health issue can cause patients to feel afraid, alone, weak, out of control, or worthless. It can also lead them to feel they would be better off dead, whether due to the stress of managing their condition, or the stress they feel they cause others as a result.

And yet, the treatment of health conditions does not include mental health checks, and I think that is a grave mistake.

 
I struggled greatly when first diagnosed with Medullary Sponge Kidneys back in 2013. The diagnosis of my chronic condition was enough to put me into a very dark mindset, which not only took me a long time to accept I could not manage alone, but an even longer time to come to terms with and manage.

 
At no point during my treatment was I asked how I felt, mentally. I was asked what my pain was like, physically, relating to my condition, but no one ever asked whether I was coming to terms with it, and coping with the fact it would change my life, forever. Even when one doctor noted I had lost quite a large amount of weight in a short period of time, nothing was flagged, no one asked if I was struggling, or how I was feeling.

This isn’t just damaging for the mental health of patients but also the initial illness.

Mental health issues can cause the original health condition to worsen, and this becomes an almost perpetual cycle until, unfortunately for many, it ends in tragedy, such as was the sad case with Lisa. For me, the constant bad diet and vomiting was causing me to lose a lot of water and important nutrients, which I needed to prevent the constant Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) caused by my condition.

 

Not only this, but I was also now struggling to cope with two health conditions and I felt weaker and more alone than ever, I felt completely out of control of my own life and health. And guess what, this made me even more depressed. Go figure.

 
I am pleased to say that I did seek help and I stuck with it, not only that but getting over my mental health problems helped to realise I had to manage my kidney condition better too. This year I have had a better grip on my health than I have for long time and I manage both my mental health problems and kidney condition like normal people would manage household chores. I know it has to be done, it doesn’t always make it easy and I’m not always motivated to do it, but if I didn’t I’d be in chaos and now it’s just routine.
But, that isn’t the case for many people, and as Lisa’s case shows if it isn’t dealt with then the consequences can be tragic.

*I have avoided the claim that Diabulimia is a direct result of diabetes, as this is a reductive statement. The reality for many people is an underlining mental health condition brought out or worsened by e.g. the diagnosis of a health condition.