Do you or a loved one have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and find yourself struggling with anxiety, depression, or the ability to think positively? Living with CKD can add many stressors to your life that can impact your mental and emotional health, particularly as the disease progresses. These impacts shouldn’t be ignored.
Since mental health also affects physical health, it is important to learn about what contributes to poor mental health among CKD patients and how to address mental health issues. Here are some tips for self-care and for finding professional help.
How Can CKD Affect Mental Health?
People who live with CKD, particularly in its later stages, face multiple stressors, such as: and may not be seeking the help they need. Some examples of common stressors among CKD patients include:
- The Financial burden of medications and/or dialysis
- Feeling like a burden to family members, caregivers, and friends
- Being unable to have restful sleep
- Losing a job or having to reduce billable hours
- Eating restrictions
- Facing the COVID-19 pandemic with a weakened immune system
As if these stressors aren’t enough to generate anxiety and depression on their own, people with CKD who already have unrelated mental health issues may place their mental health on the back burner and neither practice self-care nor seek the outside help they need. Over time, untreated mental health issues worsen your physical health, and a vicious cycle is set in motion that can affect your eating habits, sleep, energy level, and ability to adhere to your treatment regimen.
What Mental Health Issues Are Common with CKD?
There are many mental health issues that CKD patients face, but some of the most common are:
- Depression. Depression is a mood disorder that has a negative effect on the way you feel, think, and act. Some patients lose interest in activities, have sleep issues, fatigue or loss of energy, and feelings of worthlessness.
- Anxiety. Anxiety is a reaction your body has to stress. There are many different types of anxiety, but some may cause intense fear and worry for little to no reason or worry about certain interactions or situations.
- Substance addiction. When dealing with stress, some people turn toward drugs and alcohol to help them cope. This can lead to addiction and cause other physical health, relationship, work, and financial problems.
All of these can interfere with your mood, clear thinking, and judgment, and hinder not only your quality of life but also your safety.
What Are Some Self-Care Tools?
Fortunately, there are many self-care tools and techniques you can use to boost your overall mood and mental health. Some resources and tools to consider are:
- Self-help books. Books can inform and inspire you; they are gifts that keep on giving.
- Physical activity. Exercise can enhance your overall health and wellbeing, and many people find that it helps clear their minds and work off stress.
- Kidney-friendly eating. Speak with your renal dietitian about crafting a meal plan that you find interesting and supports your particular dietary needs. Food affects mood.
- Religion/spirituality. Your faith leader and community can provide emotional and spiritual support. Religious and spiritual leaders may offer spiritual counseling, and some are now trained in mental health counseling, as well.
- Good sleep. Getting a sufficient amount of good quality sleep cleans toxins and other wastes from your brain, which affects your physical and mental health.
- Social network. Share your health challenges with your friends, family, and others in your social network. They will likely be glad that you trust them with the information, and will be happy to offer their support and feel that they are helping in whatever ways they can.
It’s important to remember you are not alone if you are struggling with your mental health. In addition to your social network, kidney disease and mental health support groups are both also available in person and online to help you navigate particularly stressful times.
Where Can I Get Professional Help?
For those for whom self-care tools alone are not enough, professional help can be a critical factor in determining your quality of life and disease progression. Mental health treatment is divided into therapy and medicine, and the two are often combined for best effect.
Therapy is a great place to start. If you attend dialysis, your social worker is trained to counsel and be a mental health provider. If you do not receive dialysis and do not have access to a social worker, there are several options for finding a mental health provider:
- Ask your doctor or social worker for a referral or recommendation
- Ask your health insurance company for a list of covered providers
- Ask a trusted family member, friend, or religious leader for recommendations
If you find you still continue to struggle with your mental health after therapy, reach out to your doctor. There are many safe and effective medicines to help that your doctor may prescribe.
If you are in crisis and are having suicidal thoughts, dial 9-1-1 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.
*American Kidney Fund. (2022, March 18). Mental health and kidney disease. https://www.kidneyfund.org/living-kidney-disease/mental-health-and-kidney-disease