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Be Well: Diabetes patients’ challenges compounded by depression

Published: Monday, March 31, 2014 9:34 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:23 p.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
Maria Gongora

NORTH CHICAGO – First diagnosed with diabetes at age 35, Maria Gongora of Waukegan quickly understood this was just the beginning of her health struggles. And as the realization of her diagnosis and its implications settled in, so did depression.

“Depression is like being a prisoner in your own mind, it weighs you down,” Gongora said.

Now 51, she continues to struggle with depression, but finds help through Be Well-Lake County, a diabetes management program for medically underserved patients. Be Well is a partnership between NorthShore University HealthSystem and the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center. The program’s fully integrated, patient-centered approach to helping patients better manage their diabetes is receiving national attention for its innovation.

According to a recent study by the International Diabetes Foundation, approximately 45 percent of patients living with diabetes have undiagnosed depression, as compared to less than 10 percent of the general population. While Be Well patients are on the lower end of the scale – about 28 percent of the 528 patients screened last year were depressed – the need for mental health services can grow quickly.

“My depression has progressively gotten worse due to issues such as unemployment and chronic medical conditions I’m dealing with. When I feel depressed, I don’t have energy, I feel detached. I look for excuses to get out of social situations,” Gongora said.

More than 26 million Americans understand first-hand how diabetes affects many other aspects of everyday life. Managing the disease can be overwhelming. A patient with diabetes must monitor blood sugar levels, and purchase the medical supplies to do so; keep multiple doctor appointments; eat healthy, and being able to afford to do so; and maintain a healthy weight through exercise, while finding the available time and resources.

Complications naturally arise, and in some cases, patients find themselves spiraling into depression.

“We see patients who face major challenges, with the epicenter being diabetes. Our clinicians are focused on helping the patient every step of the way even if that means their struggles are beyond what we can see physically,” said Christy Arnold, Be Well-Lake County Diabetes Program Coordinator.

“The Be Well staff really care--they provide ongoing support and encouragement. It is hard news to hear, but a relief to know and understand that it can be controlled. Diabetes doesn’t have to control a person,” Gongora said.

For information, call 847-377-8604.

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