Mental Illness and Diabetes

There is a significant link between type 2 diabetes and mental illness and the connection has become more clear over the past decade. Photo: Stephan Dickter

WASHINGTON, February 18, 2012 - There is a significant link between type 2 diabetes and mental illness. Does one illness set the stage for the other? Maybe the brain’s chemistry during the ups and downs of bipolar swings invites diabetes. Perhaps changes in the brain from abnormal glucose levels opens the door to depression or mania. Or, the stress of managing one illness might make people’s systems more receptive to the other.

The connection has become more clear over the past decade.

 2003 Study

The State University of New York at Buffalo did a study almost 10 years ago on the incidence of people with diabetes and schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It had been  theorized that diabetes was a side effect of the newer antipsychotic medications such as Zyprexa and Risperdol.

The study in Buffalo indicated the high incidence of people with diabetes and mental illness did not result from side effects of the medications. The data analyzed showed that even before any antipsychotic medications were available (1940-1950), there existed a significant and similar incidence rate of people with mental illness and diabetes

The Weight of Medication and Lifestyle

The study above did not however completely exonerate the newer antipsychotic medications. One big risk factor for diabetes is excess weight or obesity, and modern antipsychotics exacerbate weight gain. The same is true for the common bipolar medications lithium and Depakote. 

People who take both an antipsychotic and a mood stabilizer like lithium generally gain significant weight. Several of these medications cause people to feel hungry and so they eat more.

The lifestyle of those with either a mental illness or diabetes are equally important. It is stressful to manage both kinds of illness and the severity of each has to do with a patient’s diet, exercise, and sleep regimen. People who are overweight tend to be sedentary. People with mental illness and diabetes frequently have disturbed sleep patterns, and though people with mania are incredibly active, they often cannot relax or sleep. 

Genes, Syndromes, and Pathways

It appears that diabetes and bipolar disorder are genetically related. The genetic factors they have in common, when combined, are associated with Wolfram syndrome. Those with Wolfram syndrome demonstrate symptoms of both bipolar disorder and diabetes. 

The incidence of another syndrome, the metabolic syndrome, is very high in people with bipolar disorder. Metabolic syndrome is the condition of being resistant to insulin. It can sometimes be reversed with exercise and dietary alterations. Without those changes, it frequently leads to diabetes. Furthermore, insulin resistance is also considered an effect of having too much cortisol in the blood stream. Both diabetics and bipolar patients tend to have above normal cortisol levels.

In 2010, researchers discovered that mice who have insulin-signaling disrupted within their brain’s neurons, demonstrate behaviors similar to those observed in people with schizophrenia. The faulty insulin signal causes a dopamine dysfunction, a factor in depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD.

What a Pair

The link between type 2 diabetes and bipolar disorder should be taken seriously if you have metabolic syndrome, a mental illness, or diabetes diagnosis. Although both types of illness are difficult to manage, research on the connection between them may eventually lead to new and more effective treatments.  

To learn more about the connection between depression and diabetes, you will find excellent information at Healthline. com

Mental Illness linked to diabetes, Ellen Goldbaum, UB Reporter ( Molecular link btwn diabetes & schizophrenia connects food & mood

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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


Contact Jacqueline Marshall


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