Helping young diabetics

Dr Kelly Bowers

A Griffith University and Gold Coast Health program to help teenagers with diabetes better manage their condition has seen success on the Gold Coast.

A joint collaboration between Griffith, Child, Youth and Mental Health Services, Paediatrics and the Diabetes Centre at Gold Coast Health, the ‘You Beat It’ diabetes youth lifestyle program uses interpersonal psychotherapy treatment (IPT) to improve the relationships and thought processes between young diabetics, their families and their peers.

A difficult time for sufferers

The adolescent period is known to be a particularly difficult time for sufferers of Type 1 diabetes,with increased risk of compromising the management of the condition.

“Unfortunately, having to give themselves several injections a day and adhering to strict monitoring of their eating habits can really wear thin when kids get to the adolescent stage,” says
Dr Kelly Bowers, researcher and Doctorate of Clinical Psychology student from the Griffith Health Institute.

“There can be a lot of conflict around their diabetes management, with many questions from parents such as ‘have you done your needle yet?’ or ‘have you checked your levels?’ It can be very
difficult from both a parent and adolescent point of view.

“Anxiety, depression, eating disorders and non-compliance behaviours can also become risk factors for this group, therefore the focus needs to be on improving the relationships and
psychological health in order to improve their diabetes management.”

Working with groups of approximately six participants aged between 13 and 17 with a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, Dr Bowers and his team conducted six two-hour weekly sessions.

“Our goal was to use IPT to help teenagers to address the psychosocial problems associated with being a teenager and having diabetes,” says Dr Bowers. “We aimed to improve interpersonal
relationships and as a result, improve how they manage their diabetes day to day.”

A three-month follow up to the IPT sessions provided positive feedback to the study, with 77.5% of youths and 74% of parents indicating that ‘most’ or ‘all’ of their needs had been met by the

“We found that the young people were not as ‘overwhelmed’ by their disease as they had been in the past, with several reporting that they were able to better manage their diabetes more efficiently and also communicate ‘more openly and clearly’ with family members and health professionals,” says Dr Bowers.

Social support is positive

“The social support and interaction for the youths and the parent information sessions were also seen to be very positive aspects of the YBI program.

“The fact that the young people said that these shared experiences is encouraging them to seek out more peer support, is very pleasing. It was also great to see improvements in symptoms of depression, anxiety and behavioural issues as these psychological problems can be high within this group of adolescents.”

Further feedback is now being sought from the program participants and it is envisaged that future programs will target more specific areas that may result in improvements in psychological
symptoms, metabolic functioning and diabetes-related quality of life.