Self-compassion is the practice of being kind, gentle, supportive and understanding toward oneself, particularly when faced with difficulties. It has been associated with better psychological wellbeing and physical health outcomes in various chronic conditions. However, few studies have explored such associations in diabetes. The aim of the current study was to investigate the relationship between self-compassion and diabetes distress among Australian adults (aged 18-75) with type 1 (T1D) or type 2 diabetes (T2D) using data from the second Diabetes MILES – Australia study (MILES-2).
A total of 1958 respondents (T1D: 46%, T2D insulin-using: 23%, T2D non-insulin-using: 31%) recruited primarily through the National Diabetes Services Scheme register completed the MILES-2 online survey. Psychological measures included the Self-Compassion Scale short form, Problem Areas In Diabetes Scale (diabetes distress), Patient Health Questionnaire-8 Scale (depressive symptoms), Generalised Anxiety Disorder-7 Scale (anxiety symptoms) and Confidence in Diabetes Self-Care Scales (diabetes-specific self-efficacy). ANOVA and chi-square statistics were used to compare respondents with ‘severe diabetes distress’ and ‘no/mild diabetes distress’ on various psychological variables (including self-compassion) and physical health outcomes. To further explore the association between self-compassion and diabetes distress, separate hierarchical regression models were used for each of three groups (T1D, T2D insulin-using, T2D non-insulin-using), with diabetes distress as the dependent variable.
Those with severe diabetes distress had significantly lower self-compassion (η2 =.18, p<0.001) and worse health outcomes than those with no/mild distress. After controlling for known confounders (e.g. HbA1c, depressive symptoms), small, independent negative associations were observed between self-compassion and diabetes distress in the T1D (β=-.10, p<.05) and T2D insulin-using (β=-.20, p<0.001) groups, but not in the T2D non-insulin-using group.
While longitudinal research is needed to confirm causal relationships, these findings suggest that self-compassion may offer a promising intervention framework for reducing diabetes distress in people with T1D and those managing T2D with insulin.