The founder of Harrogate's branch of Diabetes UK has lent her voice to a national campaign by the charity which calls for mental health support to be a mandatory and everyday focus for people with diabetes and other long-term illnesses.
In Diabetes Week, where awareness is being raised across the country, Starbeck resident Chrissie Holmes has spoken to the Harrogate Advertiser about the importance of people being asked how they are feeling as part of every diabetes appointment, and the need for a mental health professional with knowledge of the condition to be part of every diabetes care team.
This two-pronged approach is the main focus of Diabetes UK's 'It's Missing' campaign, and on a more local level, Chrissie is also calling for discreet drop-ins to be introduced in hospitals to help people with diabetes and other long term illnesses to to open up about their struggles.
Chrissie has lived with type 1 diabetes for nearly 53 years, since she was 11 years old - she said the turmoil of receiving a diagnosis can turn people's worlds completely upside down, and in some cases lead to a spiral of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
She said: "It’s a shock to your system when you get diagnosed with it, you are just in a complete muddle - for me, I just sat there thinking, why me, what have I done? Is my life going to be shortened? I just thought I was dying because nobody really knew anything about diabetes back then. I think for a lot of people, actually being diagnosed with it has a big impact on them, and a lot of people just don’t know where to turn.
"They go and see their GP or they go to their hospital, depending on which type of diabetes they have, and they give them blood tests and that sort of thing, and have their kidneys checked and everything else, but the focus isn't on how you are feeling, it's purely the physical side of it.
"There are various degrees of depression and anxiety, and it’s not obvious always - you can be happy and smiling on the outside, but be falling apart on the inside.
"With diabetes, it’s the constant worry that can lead to this depressive state - it’s watch this, don’t do that, look after yourself. There’s a fear of having a hypo in your sleep, which is low blood glucose, there’s a fear of what’s going to happen to you in old age, and watching what you eat.
"People just get into a deeper depression and they just don’t know where to turn to, and then the blood glucose can probably go completely out of control, and the diabetes can go completely out of control.
"I feel that I have received the support that I need, but there are many thousands of people in the UK that haven’t, and it is time that we made amends.”
Chrissie, who is being presented with a Diabetes UK Inspired award this week, said there is also a lingering stigma around diabetes that can lead to a drastic decline in mood.
She said: "When I was a child, it was like having the plague at school - I used to get bullied and all sorts of things, and you do get a response like, 'ooh I’d never have guessed you have diabetes, and you don’t look like you’ve got diabetes' - I mean, excuse me, should I have a badge on my forehead? What am I supposed to look like?
"I think a lot of people associate diabetes with obesity, but that's not always the case - diabetes can be passed on through generations, and if you’ve got that gene then that’s the type two diabetes. Type one is an immunity thing
"But people tend to tar you with the same brush - it’s wrong that people think that if you’re obese you’ve got diabetes, there are lots of different reasons for it - the fact that you’re overweight can bring diabetes on, but it's not that straightforward.
"I also think that some people just think, you’ve got diabetes, get on with it - if you don’t look after yourself you’ll be in trouble. Thankfully things have changed, but there is still room for big changes and improvements in awareness.
"If we had a drop-in centre either at the hospital or at a medical centre, where nobody knew what you were going in for, with no badge on your head that you're going to mental health services, I think a lot of people would welcome that and it could save lives. "
Lobbying Parliament, and backing for new campaign
Chrissie and branches of Diabetes UK across the country have taken their campaign to Parliament, launching a petition calling for increased mental healthcare services for people living with diabetes, other long-term illnesses, and disabilities - 64 MPs were present, including Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones.
To sign the petition, visit https://diabetes.org.uk, click get involved, click campaign, and go to, 'It's Missing."