Mind and body.
Living with chronic kidney disease makes every day a challenge. It affects, and sometimes governs, every aspect of a person’s life. There’s no let-up. This puts a huge strain on people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. One in three kidney patients are thought to suffer with depression and anxiety, and that’s before the added stress of coping as a kidney patient during a pandemic.
Despite the mental health crisis going on in the kidney community, it is inconsistently addressed in renal care. Last year, as part of our ongoing priority to improve holistic (physical and emotional) care for kidney patients, we made progress to get the issue on the agenda.
Making change together
In May, we partnered with the Centre for Mental Health to shine a light on this issue, by releasing a joint statement of intent. It laid out the evidence and the actions needed from ourselves, from the government and from the NHS, to transform kidney services so that they pay heed to and support patients’ mental health.
When the first Covid-19 lockdown meant many kidney patients faced increasing isolation to stay safe, King’s College Hospital renal physiotherapist Dr Sharlene Greenwood became increasingly worried about her patients’ physical and mental wellbeing. She conceived the idea of Kidney Beam, an online service to give kidney patients the chance to come together online and benefit from specialist exercise and education programmes. We were proud to support a pilot of the scheme in July, and in November we extended our funding for a further year. Our support secures free access to the service for kidney patients – over 1,000 users and rising – for this period.
We also funded the first research project to evaluate the impact of Kidney Beam on the physical and mental health of participants. If successful, this will be vital in convincing the NHS to fund and incorporate Kidney Beam into the routine support offered to every patient.
October saw the start of a project led by a team from King’s College London and the University of Hertfordshire to research exactly what mental health support is available for kidney patients in the UK. Psychologist Dr Joe Chilcot applied to us for funding when he realised how little evidence exists about the mental health impact of kidney disease, in comparison to other long-term illnesses.
The researchers have begun by reviewing the published literature, finding that there’s only moderate evidence available for the best way to support kidney patients’ emotional needs. An audit of services currently available at 70 renal centres is now taking place, and will help to shape the researchers’ recommendations for improvement, which are expected in 2023.
Why my mental health is my biggest concern
Sarah Green is a patient advocate who wants to see better mental health support for people with kidney disease. Here, Manchester-based Sarah, 33, writes a blog on how looking after our mental health is as important as looking after our physical health. Sarah helps run a Facebook support group for young adults with kidney disease.