People with long-term physical conditions more likely to struggle with mental health

A new report from the Centre for Mental Health says people with long-term physical conditions have too few opportunities to ask for help with their mental health, and that the pandemic has added further pressure to this.

23/06/21

People with long-term physical conditions more likely to struggle with mental health

People who live with long-term physical conditions are twice as likely to have poor mental health as those who do not, a new report has found.

The ‘Ask How I Am’ report, produced by Centre for Mental Health and National Voices, says that people with multiple long-term conditions have an even greater chance of having poor mental health, and people with long-term physical conditions still face many barriers to accessing mental health support.

The report was based on interviews with people living with a wide range of long-term physical conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and heart disease, and looks at the part that the COVID-19 pandemic has played in adding pressure to people’s mental health.

It found that people and communities with the least resources and greatest adversities have seen the biggest impacts on their mental and physical health.

The report also found that people with long-term conditions have too few opportunities to ask for help with their mental health with over-stretched services and stigma all making it hard for people to say they are struggling.

Approximately half of the people spoken to had received support for their mental health, most commonly either a talking therapy or medication, describing mixed results. Being offered talking therapy with someone who understood their physical condition was most often felt to be helpful, and peer support and help for family members was also valued.

Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive at Centre for Mental Health, said being supported with mental health makes a big difference to people’s physical condition, yet this is often left to chance.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous pressure on health services and on people living with long-term conditions. So now we need to put compassion first. This can be as simple as small gestures of care during a consultation. But it needs system change, too, to create the space and the support we need and should expect for our mental health.”

As a result of this report, the Centre for Mental Health launched a campaign, #AskHowIAm, calling for a greater focus on compassionate care for people with long-term conditions. The organisations involved are recommending that practitioners ask patients how they are at every opportunity, adding that creating a space for them to express how they are feeling can be a vital first step to getting the right support.

They also recommend that practitioners be aware of what help is available to people using your service for their emotional health and reassure people that it’s okay to seek emotional support at any time while living with a long-term condition.

The report also suggests that practitioners make a particular effort to challenge inequality and be mindful that people from marginalised and excluded communities may face additional barriers to support and have low levels of trust that need to be rebuilt.

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