Diabetes in Hard Times

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For three years now, people have been losing their homes and their jobs because of the 2008 economic “collapse” and ongoing hard times. How is that affecting diabetes?

In 2009, the Associated Press reported that “Diabetics are increasingly risking life and limb by cutting back on — or even going without — doctor visits, insulin, medicines and blood-sugar testing as they lose income and health insurance in the recession.”

According the same news story, Dr. Steven Edelman, founder of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, “has seen a 30 percent surge the past six months in patients seeking free diabetes medicines and supplies, which the clinic has to ration. Many had been solidly middle class, but the recession took their jobs, insurance and even some homes.”

Reporting on a Harvard study, diabetes blogger Amy Stockwell Mercer reported last year that because of the recession, “Nearly two in five [people with diabetes] (39 percent) say that tough times have made their health worse,” and “about a third (34 percent) say that costs related to their disease have drained their savings accounts.”

Economic struggles affect far more than medical care, though. How do you focus on your health when you’re losing your home or your job, or loved ones are struggling to get by? Money issues can affect our mental state and even our diets.

ScienceDaily reported in 2010 that “The economic recession [has increased the] incidence of food insecurity… For diseases like diabetes, in which nutrition and menu planning play a key role in treatment, food insecurity can be devastating.”

Concerns like these can bring down your whole view of life. Mercer says she stopped using her insulin pump to save money and cut down on testing because insurance cut the number of strips they’ll pay for. “It’s flat out depressing and frustrating,” she says, “and I wish I could see a silver lining on the horizon but I just don’t.”

As Mercer’s comments show, financial issues are adding major stress to life with diabetes, and stress makes diabetes worse. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “For every 100 additional foreclosures in a given zip code, there was an 8.1% increase in newly diagnosed diabetes among people aged 20–49 years… There was also a 7.2% increase in ER visits for hypertension, and a 12% increase in visits and admits for anxiety and other psychosocial problems for every 100 foreclosures… Not surprisingly, there were racial disparities, with African-Americans and Hispanics being harder hit health-wise than whites.”

Unemployment can damage health even more than foreclosure. Writing on the blog Lemonade Life, guest blogger Susan wrote, “What do I pay for first… food or test strips? What about insulin? What about my phone, in case I need to call for help? What about a place to live? This circle of thoughts plagues me most days and sometimes it gets so overwhelming…”

“Do you know anywhere that will hire a 25 year old college grad who has three Bachelor degrees?” she asks. “Because I have not [found one]. I have applied everywhere from department stores to fast food restaurants to government agencies. Either I have ‘too much experience’ or I don’t have enough.”

So how do you cope with loss of income, job, home? I don’t have any great answers, but I know it’s important to get as much help from others as you can — family, friends, other people with diabetes. People can give emotional support and practical help. They let you know you’re not alone. Having other people on your side reduce your stress, even if they can’t help you find a place to live or a job. And maybe they can help with that, too.

I don’t know if it helps to get angry with the corporate bankers and their government helpers who are doing this to us. I think feeling you are fighting back may reduce your feelings of stress and helplessness. But I know it’s also important to accept what happens and move on. Blaming others rarely helps us cope. Both acceptance and fighting back are hard.

In spite of this bleak picture, finding ways to pay for diabetes care, meds, and supplies is often possible. When I wrote about “Paying for Diabetes” a few weeks ago, readers had many good suggestions. Perhaps we have some ideas for paying bills, dealing with foreclosures, and finding jobs, too?

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