Peer Support Groups Essential to Aid People with Depression and Diabetes

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Peer-support groups for individuals with diabetes and depression may have a substantial impact on costly hospitalizations and emergency room visits, a new study finds.

It’s known that people with diabetes have a greater risk of depression.

And, the stress of daily diabetes management and/or difficulty managing blood sugar levels can contribute to this stress.

How was the Study Conducted?

The study was a cluster-randomized controlled trial conducted from 2010-2012. The clusters were practices and their surrounding communities.

Adults with type 2 diabetes who wanted help with self-management were eligible to participate.

The participants received education plus one year of peer support. The control group received education only. About 424 participants from eight rural southern Alabama counties were selected.

Peer support was defined as assistance with disease management, providing emotional support and giving patients access to resources.

Prevalence of Diabetes in Rural Areas

According to the researchers, Alabama has a disproportionately high prevalence of diabetes, ranking first in 2016, with a rate of diagnosed diabetes close to 16 percent.

“Despite the high burden, diabetes-related resources are scarce,” the authors cite, “at the time the study was implemented, there was a single certified diabetes educator covering all eight counties.”

Why is Peer Support a Good Option?

The American Diabetes Association recognizes emotional support as an important part of diabetes management. And lead author of the study, Dr. Andrea Cherrington and her colleagues’ study findings support this fact.

“We found that, for those with diabetes and mild to severe depression, peer support reduced hospitalizations by 70 percent and acute care by 50 percent,” Cherrington told Science Daily.

Community health workers (who are not health professionals) were trained to offer individualized support for self-management behaviors including diet, physical activity, medication adherence, and stress management were a part of the peer support.

“Understanding population health is a big challenge, and in many areas of Alabama, access to care and resources is quite limited,” Cherrington said. “Community health workers are one promising strategy for helping individuals overcome barriers to managing their diabetes.”

Cherrington believes peer support is most beneficial for individuals who have a chronic disease and are isolated with a lack of social support.

“Health systems and providers must consider new strategies that simultaneously improve health outcomes and attend to the patient experience while managing costs,” Cherrington said in the study.

“For me, this research provides evidence that peer support is one strategy that has the potential to achieve each of these aims in the setting of diabetes and comorbid depression,” she adds.

The study has been published in Diabetes Care.


  1. The University of Alabama at Birmingham. (2018, October 29). Peer support can help curb acute care for persons with depression and diabetes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from
  2. Impact of Peer Support on Acute Care Visits and Hospitalizations for Individuals With Diabetes and Depressive Symptoms: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial
    Andrea L. CherringtonYulia KhodnevaJoshua S. RichmanSusan J. AndreaeChristopher GamboaMonika M. Safford