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Patients & Providers: Prioritize Your Mental Health, Too

This blog is co-authored by representatives from the Northwest Kidney Council (NWKC) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Washington. NWKC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting safety and access to quality care for the kidney community in Oregon and Washington. NAMI Washington’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all those affected by any kind of mental health condition.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month across the United States, and our organizations are collaborating to spread awareness about the importance of mental health on a regional level. This work is critical every month of the year, but each May we recommit to keeping the conversation going.

Our organizations work throughout the Pacific Northwest to ensure the overall health of our communities and this annual observance presents a terrific opportunity (not that we really need it!) to share resources and connect with people to remind them to prioritize their mental health in addition to their physical health.

For several reasons, Americans with chronic disease face higher rates of mental health problems. Taking care and providing care can be exhausting, lonely endeavors. Rising treatment costs, physical limitations, social constraints, and the constant anxiety of living with chronic kidney disease are factors that may lead or contribute to depression and other mental illnesses within the kidney community.

With all this, it can be difficult to know where to start or who to turn to. The first thing to do is to remember that no matter how you might be feeling in the moment, you are not alone! Resources and support are available – you just have to know how to get started.

The National Forum of ESRD Networks has published a helpful toolkit designed by and for patients battling depression. The toolkit dives deep into identifying and responding to the emotional demands of dialysis, from common reactions – fear, anger and sadness – that often come with a difficult diagnosis, to behavioral and physical changes that can happen to a patient during treatment.

It also includes information on the value and danger of self-diagnosis tools. While things like the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 can be a quick way to understand more about what’s going on, patients should always raise any concerns directly with a professional. Often, at dialysis centers, there are multiple providers who can assist with resource navigation who understand exactly what kidney patients are going through.

NAMI Washington and NAMI Oregon both support networks of peer-led care throughout the Pacific Northwest. Local affiliates provide support groups, mental health first aid, care navigation resources and education at no cost.

While the importance of addressing mental health in the kidney community has always been essential, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem. Isolation from support networks, uncertainty around treatment schedules, and broad collective anxiety have contributed to widespread mental health issues not only among patients, but providers as well.

Depression, anxiety and suicide rates are up among doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. In response, Congress took bipartisan action to pass additional mental health support for the health care workforce through the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which President Biden signed last month and was named for a doctor that died from suicide during the pandemic.

Recognizing the broad need for better mental health services and after sustained activism, Congress has also passed bipartisan legislation creating a nationwide suicide hotline that is expected to launch this July. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts will be able to call 9-8-8 and receive support and connection to resources.

At the local level, Oregon's legislature also passed a bipartisan bill this year that will open up new mental health resources to nurses throughout the health care system. This is an ongoing conversation in Olympia, as well.

Clearly, we need to be mindful that mental health problems impact the patient community differently than the rest of the population. With resources in hand and a commitment to constantly raising awareness about this issue, we can build on progress together to ensure everyone receives the help they need to be mentally healthy.

To the patients and providers throughout the kidney community: it’s understandable to focus on your immediate physical health. But we’re here with a gentle reminder that you must also prioritize your mental health. If you or your organization is interested in joining us in this ongoing effort to promote mental health, visit NAMI’s Together for Mental Health page to find out how.


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