Monday, June 12, 2006

Mental illness & diabetes

One in five persons with a mental illness will develop diabetes. Needless to say, this is of great concern.

For decades, psychiatrists have worried primarily about patients' mental states, making sure they did no harm to themselves or others because of unrelenting voices or a smothering depression.

Far more of the mentally ill, however, die today from diabetes and complications like heart disease than from suicide. Given that mental health specialists are often the only doctors a mentally ill diabetic ever sees, some have begun to debate the customary limits of psychiatric practice, deciding to pay much more attention to physical ailments.

In particular, psychiatrists must confront the fact that diabetes, marked by dangerously high blood sugar, is often aggravated, if not precipitated, by some of the very medicines they prescribe: antipsychotic pills that have been linked to swift weight gain and the illness itself.

"It's bad enough that these people have mental illness, and then they take treatments and they bring on diabetes," said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of the psychiatry department at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Treating the diabetic mentally ill can be formidable. The regimen of blood testing, dieting and exercise that controls Type 2 diabetes is often beyond the attentions of the mentally ill. For patients, the task of taming two debilitating illnesses can haunt their lives. Michael Schiraldi, 44, a Manhattan man who has both schizoaffective disease and diabetes, said his mental illness, now stabilized, was the lesser of his concerns.

"I can't really control the diabetes," he said. "I might die from it." (NYTimes)

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