Addressing the mental health challenges of life with kidney disease

10 May 2023

Jo Wilton

Kidney disease is a risk factor for poor mental wellbeing, and poor mental wellbeing is a risk factor for worse outcomes for people with kidney disease. How can we address the mental health challenges of living with kidney disease and deliver more holistic, effective support?

Commissioned by Kidney Research UK and written by Centre for Mental Health, this report sets out the significant mental health needs of people living with chronic kidney disease, and recommends urgent improvements to the current model of care.

We reviewed relevant literature and spoke with people living with kidney disease, family members, and professionals in kidney services, about their experiences. We heard how living with and being treated for kidney disease can affect people’s relationships, their social life, their education, their work, their sense of identity, and their hopes for the future.

It’s understandable that a condition with such wide-reaching effects would also have an impact on people’s mental health. However, many people find that their mental health is an afterthought when undergoing treatment for kidney disease, and there aren’t consistent, clear pathways for people with kidney disease to get tailored support.

“It’s just really difficult to explain how much it [kidney disease] has affected me emotionally, you know. It’s with me all the time, it’s always in my heart and it’s always in my mind, and I wish there was someone out there who could help me with that.”

Good psychosocial care is crucial to improving a range of outcomes in kidney disease. We’re calling for three core actions to improve the quality of and access to mental health care for people living with kidney disease:

  • Implementation of a more tailored approach to mental health care through a stepped model that becomes more specialised depending on the individual’s need
  • Investment into all kidney services to ensure that staff are trained to assess and refer patients for further mental health help
  • Increased government funding for research into the relationship between kidney disease and mental health to enable the ongoing development of essential services.

It is also vital to address the inequalities which place some people at higher risk of kidney disease and of worse mental health outcomes. One size does not fit all; a person-centred, coproduced approach is essential to enabling support to be effective.

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