The Impact of a Mobile Diabetes Health Intervention on Diabetes Distress and Depression Among Adults: Secondary Analysis of a Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017 Dec 7;5(12):e183. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.8910.


Background: Diabetes is a complex, demanding disease that requires the constant attention of patients. The burden of self-management, including different medication regimens, routine self-care activities, and provider visits, has an impact on patients' emotional well-being. Diabetes distress and depression are two important components of emotional well-being that may negatively affect diabetes outcomes.

Objective: The aim was to determine the impact of the 1-year Mobile Diabetes Intervention Study cluster randomized clinical trial on emotional well-being measured by diabetes distress and depression among adults with type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Methods: A total of 163 adults with not-well-managed T2D were enrolled from community primary care practices. Primary care practices were cluster randomized into either a usual care control group or intervention group. Intervention participants were given a mobile phone with coaching software including a Web portal to communicate with providers. A priori established secondary outcomes included distress measured by the Diabetes Distress Scale (DDS), with subscales measuring emotional burden, interpersonal distress, physician-related distress, and regimen-related distress, as well as depression measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Linear mixed models were used to calculate the effect of the intervention on diabetes distress levels over time, both overall and separately by sex, and to determine if the intervention affected distress or depression. The impact of total DDS on changes in HbA1c was also studied.

Results: There were no significant treatment group effects for DDS total (baseline: P=.07; differences over time: P=.38) or for depression (P=.06 over time). Significant declines in total DDS were observed over the 12-month intervention period (P=.01). Regimen-related distress significantly decreased for all study participants (P<.001), but no significant change over time was observed for emotional burden (P=.83), interpersonal distress (P=.64), or physician-related distress (P=.73). Women in both the usual care and intervention groups were more likely to have higher overall DDS, emotional burden, physician-related distress, and regimen-related distress, but not interpersonal distress. Women also reported higher baseline depression compared to men (P=.006). Overall, depression decreased over the treatment period (P=.007), but remained unaffected by group assignment (P=.06) or by sex (P=.97). Diabetes distress had no effect on the change in HbA1c (P=.91) over the treatment period.

Conclusions: Although we found no definitive overall or sex-specific effect of the intervention on diabetes distress or depression, this study makes an important contribution to the understanding of mobile health interventions and the impact on emotional health. Our study verified previous work that although diabetes distress and depression are highly correlated, these measures are not evaluating the same construct. Design of future mobile technology provides an opportunity to personalize, contextualize, and intervene in the emotional well-being of persons with diabetes.

Trial registration: NCT01107015; (Archived by WebCite at

Keywords: Diabetes Distress Scale; Patient Health Questionnaire; depression; diabetes; diabetes distress; emotional well-being; mobile health; women.

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