Survey reveals impact on kidney patients’ mental health – time for action
We are calling for better mental health support for kidney patients after a recent survey of over 1,000 kidney patients uncovered the significant impact the disease has on their mental health. Our survey discovered that two thirds (67%) of kidney patients experienced symptoms of depression while living with kidney disease, with 27% of those surveyed saying they have considered self-harm or suicide as a result of their kidney disease.
Despite this, 68% of respondents said they had not been offered any mental health support. The survey pointed to additional serious consequences, with a third of kidney patients saying their poor mental health meant they were not able to fully take care of their physical health.
The survey ran for three weeks from 22 January 2022 and the results were independently verified by the research agency SAPIO Research. Adults at all stages of kidney disease were surveyed, including those on dialysis or waiting for a transplant.
Dealing with the burden of disease
Kidney disease is unique in terms of the physical and emotional toll many patients face. Not only is it a chronic illness without a cure, but treatments for end stage kidney failure are hugely burdensome. Dialysis can be gruelling and usually requires patients to spend four hours in hospital three times a week, impacting on their ability to work and socialise. Transplant patients often face a long wait before receiving a donor kidney, with no guarantees. Even if the operation is successful, patients live with the knowledge the transplant is likely to fail within 10-15 years.
With such wide-ranging impacts, it is unsurprising over half (53%) of kidney patients surveyed admitted finding it hard to speak up about their mental health. We want to make this crucial step towards finding help easier.
Rallying the kidney community
This World Kidney Day (Thursday 10 March), we are calling for all kidney patients to be automatically referred to a specialist renal counsellor at the time of diagnosis.
Alison Railton, head of policy and external affairs at Kidney Research UK, said: “Kidney patients face huge challenges; their conditions can become worse over time and treatments designed to keep them alive can be physically gruelling to the point of exhaustion. But nothing really prepares you for the harrowing personal accounts kidney patients have shared with us and the mental health struggles they experience throughout their journey. We cannot allow our community to struggle on in silence, which is why we are calling on politicians to give all kidney patients access to specialist mental health support at the point of diagnosis. We often focus on the physical symptoms because they are the most noticeable, but it’s vital we commit to transforming treatments to improve patients’ mental health as well.”
The survey showed the majority (74%) of kidney patients who received mental health support found the experience useful, demonstrating the positive impact addressing mental health can have.
You can take action
With the help of supporters and politicians, we believe the outcomes of kidney patients can be dramatically improved. World Kidney Day, on 10 March 2022, provides an excellent opportunity to ensure our politicians sit up and take notice.
To help drive this forward, we are asking you, the kidney community, to reach out to your parliamentary representative.
We would like people to either write to their political representative using our template emails, or ask for a virtual meeting to discuss the urgent change needed, to take place on or around World Kidney Day. This is the first crucial step in helping the kidney community have their voices heard by the people who can make change happen.
Everything you need to take action is available on our website – just a few clicks and you can help show that kidney patients’ mental health matters.
Help is available
If you have been affected by any of the issues the survey has addressed, help is available to you. You are not alone – there are people who can help – perhaps those closest to you, your renal healthcare team, or charities who offer professional counselling support:
Kidney Care UK
Counselling and support service - available to all patients and their families.
National Kidney Federation
Free helpline for kidney patients, carers and healthcare professionals and renal units.
Provides information on mental health problems, where to get help, treatment options and advocacy services.
24/7 helpline for people who are lonely, desperate, or struggling and in need of support.