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Mental Illness Affects Almost a Third of Active-Duty Service Veterans With Diabetes

December 28, 2020

Recent active-duty service appears to raise mental health risk in veterans with diabetes, according to a study published online in Health Psychology.  

“Research on veterans with diabetes suggested elevated rates of mental illness and substance use disorder but used samples studied 14-21 years ago without comparator groups,” researchers wrote in the study background. “To inform translational research and care-delivery models for diabetes, the purpose of this study was to compare veterans with diabetes, nonveterans with diabetes, and veterans without diabetes on physical and psychological functioning.” 

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for the years 2015 through 2018. The data spanned 1320 veterans with diabetes, 10,246 nonveterans with diabetes, and 8314 veterans without diabetes.

Compared with just 3.5% of veterans without diabetes who rated their health as poor, 9.3% of veterans with diabetes and 9% of nonveterans with diabetes reported poor health, according to the study. Between 20.4% and 23.9% of respondents with diabetes reported past-year hospitalization compared with 12.9% of veterans without diabetes. Between 49% and 54.8% of respondents with diabetes reported obesity, compared with 31.8% of veterans without diabetes. 

Respondents with diabetes also had higher rates of mental illness: 17% to 21.8% of respondents with diabetes reported mental illness compared with 14.8% of veterans without diabetes. On the other hand, high-risk substance abuse was more prevalent among veterans without diabetes (14%) compared with respondents with diabetes (9.7%-9.8%). 

The study also found a 29.7% rate of mental illness among veterans with diabetes with recent active-duty service. 

“Diabetes is associated with similar impairments in veterans and nonveterans,” researchers wrote. “Among veterans with diabetes, recent service may increase psychological risk.” 

Jolynn Tumolo 


Fairman KA, Buckley K. Physical and psychological functioning in veterans with diabetes: Disease-related versus service-related effects [published online ahead of print, 2020 Nov 30]. Health Psychol. 2020;10.1037/hea0000889. doi:10.1037/hea0000889

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