Those living with a chronic disease, or who have a loved one who is affected, are well aware of the toll it takes on one's life. Physical health does not exist in a vacuum, as mental and emotional health are inextricably linked to the body’s well-being. Depression and anxiety can be one of the most difficult parts of coping with a chronic condition.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects one in ten people living in Canada. At least 15,000 people in Ontario have advanced CKD, and an additional 11,000 Ontarians have end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis as a life-sustaining therapy.
Mental health problems for those with CKD may develop for a multitude of reasons. Adapting to a lack of control over one’s body and situation is stressful. Those affected may feel isolated from loved ones, not wanting to talk about a difficult illness that will worry others. Relying on partners for daily tasks can shift relationship dynamics and cause strain. Patients may find themselves grieving for their former health, and the emotional impact of this can be overwhelming.
Studies have found that approximately fifty percent of people affected by CKD will experience depression. From diagnosis to dialysis, waiting for a kidney to become available, transplantation, and the decision-making process of whether or not to withdraw from dialysis, each stage can bring very real and expected struggles. The more common stresses of life such as family issues, relationships, and financial security can feel like too much to handle.
Some symptoms of depression can also be caused by specific physical changes, such as anemia. The buildup of waste products in the blood can lead to changes in behaviour including irritability and confusion, and can also lead to problems sleeping. Furthermore, some required medications can cause depression and anxiety as a side-effect.
“It can be dangerous to assume that physical ailments have no mental or emotional side-effects,” says Wendy Share, Executive Director at Share Lawyers. “There are serious and harmful stigmas around mental health that often influence people’s reactions to mental illness. Those suffering from anxiety or depression may be more inclined to hide their symptoms, and family members or loved ones may not know what signs to look for. It’s important to know that there are many vastly complex risks involved with chronic kidney failure and that there are resources available should you need them.”
If you or a loved one are suffering, it is important to remember that mental health conditions are treatable. Becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression is a crucial first step towards a healthy life. There are many tools for managing symptoms yourself, as well as professionals who can assist with the more daunting mental health challenges of chronic illnesses.