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People with kidney disease need better mental health support during and after COVID-19, say charities

22 May 2020

  • Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, people living with kidney disease were twice as likely to have a mental health problem in the UK, of which depression and anxiety are the most common
  • Shielding during the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating these problems and because there is currently no end in sight to their lockdown, their mental health is likely to worsen
  • Charities Kidney Research UK and Centre for Mental Health say it is time for change
  • Today, the charities announce their intention to drive forward research to better understand the links between mental health and kidney disease and how this affects outcomes for patients. They are urging others, including the Government, to take notice and use this evidence to influence and change clinical practice. Kidney patients need to be heard.

People living with kidney disease are twice as likely to have a mental health problem in the UK (1,2) – a stark statistic highlighted by charities Kidney Research UK and Centre for Mental Health today.

Their new 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.

By announcing the statement and intention to work more closely together, Kidney Research UK and Centre for Mental Health are calling for improved mental health support for people living with kidney disease.

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 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.”

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: “Having a long-term condition doubles your chances of having a mental health problem. Living with kidney disease is extremely challenging for anyone and that takes its toll on people’s mental health. 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 the plans at https://kidneyresearchuk.org/

Download the statement here


1. Palmer S, Vecchio M, Craig J, et al. Prevalence of depression in chronic kidney disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Kidney International 2013; 84(1) pp.179-191. doi:10.1038/ki.2013.77
2. Damery S, Brown C, Sein K, et al. The prevalence of mild-to-moderate distress in patients with end-stage renal disease: results from a patient survey using the emotion thermometers in four hospital Trusts in the West Midlands, UK. BMJ Open 2019;9:e027982. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2018-027982

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