Family Therapy Helps Depressed Teens with Type 1

Researchers find such therapy improves blood sugar control, lessens depression for teens struggling with diabetes management.



Managing Type 1 diabetes is tough: add in depression and teenagehood, and blood sugar management becomes extremely difficult. Researchers are beginning to uncover ways to support teens with Type 1 who may be suffering from depression, and this support can lead to better blood sugar control over time.

A recent study published in Diabetes Care shows promising results. The study, led by pediatric psychologist Dr. Andrew R. Riley of the Oregon Health & Science University showcases the benefits of Behavioral Family Systems Therapy for Diabetes (BFST-D). This therapy treats the individual in the context of his or her family; therapists work to strengthen relationships and communication between family members to help an individual choose healthier behaviors and deal with challenges of depression.

For this study, therapy was delivered through videoconferencing or in-person meetings. Researchers found that helping to strengthen the support system of a teen with Type 1 led to better blood sugar control. It was equally successful in both videoconferencing and in-person meetings.

“In addition to improving treatment adherence and glycemic control, BFST-D has collateral benefits on depressive symptoms,” writes Dr. Riley.

Depression is an issue for many people with diabetes. According to a 2011 study published in Psychosomatics, depression affects approximately 17% of the general population, a number that can double for those with diabetes. Add in the complications of the teenage years, and it’s easy to see how teens can be overwhelmed by mounting pressures surrounding their diagnosis.

“Depression in patients with diabetes is associated with poorer adherence and worse health outcomes,” writes lead researcher Sarah Markowitz, a psychologist with ties to Harvard Medical School. “However treating depression may help improve these outcomes.”

The results of Markowitz’s study show how good mental health and a positive outlook can make a significant difference in dealing with a chronic condition like diabetes.

“If… a patient can learn to reframe his or her thoughts to see diabetes self-care as a positive step toward taking care of his or her health, he or she may experience a sense of mastery, and thus mood improvement, from engaging in diabetes self-care activities,” Markowitz writes.

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Justin Surgent served as an assistant editor for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation. Previously, he was a photo editor and copy editor for UMass Amherst’s independent newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.