The health effects of emotional disclosure for individuals with type 1 diabetes
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Type 1 diabetes is a chronic illness in which the body is unable to produce insulin. If not continually monitored, Type 1 diabetes may lead to serious health complications. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes may be inclined to inhibit their thoughts and feelings about their illness to protect themselves and others from the responsibility and painful realities of the disease. Several research studies indicate that inhibiting thoughts and feelings surrounding stressful/traumatic experiences leads to physical symptoms, autonomic and immune dysfunction, and disease (Pennebaker, 1989, 1993). In addition, stress has been found to have a negative impact on glucose control in individuals with diabetes (Aikens, Wallander, Bell, & Cole, 1992). Recent studies exploring the effects of writing or talking about emotional experiences have found that confronting traumatic experiences promotes physical health, self-reported well-being, and certain adaptive behaviors (Pennebaker, 1986, 1989). This study explored the health effects of writing about stressful experiences on individuals with Type 1 diabetes. Twenty-two participants with Type 1 diabetes were assigned to an experimental or control group. The experimental group was instructed to write about an emotional/stressful topic related to diabetes for 20 minutes each day over a four consecutive days and the control group was asked to write about factual topics related to diabetes for the same period of time. Hemoglobin A1c measures (blood test that provides an average blood glucose level over a 2 to 3 month period), mean blood glucose levels, incidences of illness over a three month period, and Beck Depression Inventory scores were collected before the intervention and three months after the final writing session. The results showed that participants in the experimental group experienced fewer incidences of physical illness and less depressive symptoms than the control group. However, there was no effect of emotional disclosure on hemoglobin A1c levels or mean self-recorded blood glucose levels. The study findings indicate that among individuals with Type 1 diabetes, written emotional disclosure might reduce the incidence of self-reported physical illness and depressive symptoms.