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Diabetics can Benefit from Mental Health Coaching

Update Date: Aug 07, 2014 01:49 PM EDT

Getting diagnosed with a chronic life condition can be a scary ordeal. These conditions require patients to change certain aspect of their lifestyle, such as their nutrition and fitness levels, which can become overwhelming. In a new study, researchers reported that mental health coaching could help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar levels while reducing depression symptoms.

"While healthy coping is an essential part of diabetes education, mental health coaching takes it to another level for people who struggle with depression. Those who had mental health coaching said it was life-changing, lifesaving and helped them feel better and happier than they had in a long time," Melissa Herman, diabetes educator and program director of the Diabetes & Nutrition Education Center of FirstHealth of the Carolinas, said.

In this study, the researchers focused on a rural, low-income area in central North Carolina where roughly 16 percent of the population had type 2 diabetes. This rate is higher than the national rate of diabetes, which is currently at 10 percent. The researchers reported that 30 percent of the diabetic people suffered from depression and 65 percent were poor.

The researchers referred 182 people who were newly diagnosed with diabetes and had depression to a mental health coach and a diabetes educator. These experts helped them find the best ways to deal with their new levels of stress. They also taught the patients how to handle new challenges that come with managing diabetes. The patients had an average of three visits with the mental health coach.

The researchers found that after three months, the participants experienced improvements in their anxiety and depression scores, which fell by an average of 49 percent. The patients' A1C levels, which measure average blood sugar levels over the span of a couple of months, also fell from an average of 8.8 percent to 7.7 percent. Ideally, A1C levels should fall below seven percent.

"The program was to be piloted for a two-year period but has been so powerful [that] we have continued it," Herman said reported by HealthDay.

The study's findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Education taking place in Orlando, FL.

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