The Perth Diabetes and Mental Health Network offers interdisciplinary mental health and diabetes care practitioners opportunities to learn and share knowledge about diabetes, emotional, behavioural and physical health, and therapeutic approaches and resources, with the aim of improving care for people with diabetes in Perth, Western Australia.
The network’s co-coordinator and clinical psychologist, Dr Melanie Burkhardt, says individuals can experience mental health challenges whether they live with or without chronic conditions.
Melanie co-coordinates the Perth Diabetes and Mental Health Network with Sophie McGough and Jesse Elliot from Diabetes WA.
‘People living with diabetes who have existing mental health problems might experience an exacerbation of their mental health condition if they are unwell or their diabetes self-care is compromised’, says Melanie.
‘Diabetes-related emotional and behavioural problems can include a fear of experiencing low blood glucose, anxiety-related avoidance of high blood sugars, and eating-related difficulties including both restrictive and excessive intake’.
Last week, Diabetes Australia’s online ‘Heads Up on Diabetes’ campaign, for National Diabetes Week, highlighted the psychological and emotional health impact of living with diabetes.
Diabetes Australia launched a campaign website which has extensive information in plain English for practitioners and their clients alike.
Based in Perth, Melanie is part of a multidisciplinary diabetes team in a tertiary hospital and with a research interest in improving health care for people living with diabetes.
‘Diabetes is a complex chronic condition where multidisciplinary input is considered the standard of care. The input I provide is in consultation with, and at times provided jointly with, other members of the specialist diabetes team be they endocrinologists, diabetes educators or dietitians’.
‘I see a significant role for behaviour change specialists in diabetes management, specifically in improving self-care, psychological wellbeing and quality of life’, Melanie says.
‘I am motivated by the potential for the network to contribute to improving the care of people with diabetes in our community, through teaching, training and networking opportunities for mental health and diabetes care professionals, and researchers across the health sector’.
Melanie enjoys volunteering as a network coordinator ‘because MHPN is a recognised national platform that provides opportunities for interdisciplinary professional development. The resources and support available through MHPN makes the job of coordinating the network so much easier’.
The network’s most recent meeting was held online on 14 May where a postdoctoral researcher presented a peer support program that they had developed and evaluated through a small pilot study.
The program connects newly diagnosed adolescents living with Type 1 diabetes and their parents, with adolescent peer and parent mentors, who had been living with diabetes for some time.
‘The preliminary outcomes from the pilot evaluation suggest there are some benefits, in particular, for the experience of parents of newly diagnosed adolescents’, says Melanie.
‘I think the researcher found it valuable to get feedback from the network on how they might improve a future related project that they are planning. We also talked about potential ways to keep the parent peer-mentoring program in place beyond the life of the research project, as part of a service initiative’, says Melanie.
MHPN supported the Perth Diabetes and Mental Health Network coordinators to present the May network meeting via teleconferencing.
We have a team of project officers who have upskilled to support coordinators host online meetings in addition to face-to-face meetings which will start up in due course.
‘Our dedicated project officer set up virtual meetings, sent out invites and even guided us through a trial run on the platform before the session. It gave us the chance to familiarise ourselves with the platform, and how we were going to run the session. I was grateful to have a practice session beforehand’, says Melanie.
‘Overall, I do think it was well-received by participants. As coordinators, we’re still working to find better ways of working online, as this is likely to become an increasingly common medium for meetings in the future’, says Melanie.
Melanie notes that teleconferencing doesn’t lend itself to informal networking but has other benefits such as ‘convenience and accessibility’.
‘I wonder whether it could have the potential to draw more attendees who may find it difficult to attend a face-to-face session’.
MHPN supports seven diabetes-focussed networks across Australia which address the specific mental health needs of people living with Type 1 or Type 2 across diabetes across the age spectrum.
Thank you to all of the coordinators for bringing together interdisciplinary practitioners striving to improve mental health outcomes for people living with diabetes.
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