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Kidney patients need better mental health support – we’re taking action

22 May 2020

People living with kidney disease are twice as likely to have a mental health problem – a stark statistic we are highlighting with the charity Centre for Mental Health today 

Our new joint statement ‘Kidney disease and mental health highlights how vulnerable kidney patients already were before the coronavirus pandemic and shows their mental health could worsen even more. It also raises concerns about the impact on mental health among people with kidney disease who are being shielded and face a prolonged period of anxiety and isolation, with no sign of a way out. 

We are pleased to announce we will be working closely with the charity Centre for Mental Health to better understand the links between mental health and physical wellbeing for kidney patients and identify the best ways to support them.

‘People are absolutely at their limit’

Mental health problems are all too familiar for Sarah Green, a kidney patient and advisor who has helped to develop the way forward with the charities. 

Sarah Green
Sarah Green

Sarah said: “So many chronically ill patients tell us poor mental health massively impacts their quality of life and their ability to cope with often traumatic and difficult treatments and health issues. I’ve seen ‘difficult’ patients or people who’ve skipped dialysis – labelled as ‘non-compliant’ - die. I’ve seen doctors who were astounded at the seemingly stupid decisions that patients make that could make them more poorly or even die, and yet very rarely did they stop to question why.”  

Sarah explains: “I am sure many ‘difficult’ patients are actually doing everything they can to fight the fires in their heads and simply don’t have the energy to stick to rigid diet and treatment protocols. I am certain that people are absolutely at their limit and dread anything else going wrong, and that people are dying because they are unable to manage their health alongside a serious mental health issue. I was very nearly one of them. 

She continues: “With the additional stress of shielding, we have now reached crisis point. Many were already struggling before lockdown and didn’t have the capacity to cope with further stress. But now, after shielding for several weeks with no sign of an end for those at risk, the level of fear is palpable. People are now worried about finances, food and their health. We urgently need to address mental health in kidney disease now more than ever.” 

It's time to work together

Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK explains: “Kidney disease is a life-threatening condition that can dominate people’s lives. Living with the condition was already tough, but after COVID-19 has hit, it has got even more difficult.”  

Sandra continues: “People can live well with kidney disease if there is a combined focus on their physical and mental health needs. We urgently need to show which approaches and treatments work and improve the prospects for patients at every stage of their illness. This will include access to psychological support alongside treatment for their physical health needs. Because the link between mental health and kidney disease is under-recognised, people are not getting the right support. We must change this. Our research, along with others, will provide the answers we need. 

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “Now more than ever we need to take mental health as seriously as physical health for people with kidney disease. No one should have their mental health ignored or reduced to the sidelines.” 

Read more about our plans to work together.

If you have been affected by this story and would like someone to talk to, please contact Mind.

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