On the 10th of October 2023, the world came together to observe World Mental Health Day. It’s a day dedicated to discussing mental health openly and emphasising its significance, whilst also letting individuals know that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, regardless of the challenges they face. But there is a specific aspect of mental health that often goes unnoticed – that is, the depression and anxiety that often accompany a bladder cancer diagnosis.
The Silent Struggle: Bladder Cancer and Mental Health
A recent global survey conducted by the World Bladder Cancer Patient Coalition in May 2023 has shed light on a significant issue – the long-term impact of a bladder cancer diagnosis on mental health. This study found that patients require emotional and mental health support at critical junctures, such as the point of diagnosis, immediately thereafter, and during the course of treatment.
Alarming Statistics: The Link Between Bladder Cancer and Suicide
In 2021, Fight Bladder Cancer UK conducted a study that revealed a distressing statistic – bladder cancer patients are nearly five times more likely to take their own lives compared to the general population. Additionally, they are 1.6 times more likely to do so compared to patients with other common cancers.
Should Mental Health Support Be Integral to Bladder Cancer Treatment?
This raises a crucial question: Should mental health support be an automatic part of the treatment plan for bladder cancer patients?
Voices of the Affected: “Facing Bladder Cancer” Report
The ‘Facing Bladder Cancer’ report, supported by experts in patient care, brings to light the profound impact of this disease on mental health and emotional well-being, both for patients and their caregivers.
Astellas Pharma Inc. released the ‘Facing Bladder Cancer’ research report in May 2022, which exposed the psychological toll of living with a bladder cancer diagnosis. The report, backed by patient experts, reveals that patients often grapple with feelings of disgust, embarrassment, and self-blame throughout their journey – from the delayed diagnosis stage to end-stage care.
Key Findings from the ‘Facing Bladder Cancer’ Report
- Mental health is a significant concern for both patients (16%) and caregivers (23%) dealing with a diagnosed condition, adding to the burden they already face.
- Self-stigma plays a substantial role in affecting mental health, often leading to or exacerbating depression and anxiety.
- Caregivers experience loneliness and resentment, with 42% feeling lonelier than before the diagnosis, and 36% resenting the impact of the disease on their lives.
- Daily activities are severely impacted, with 77% of patients less likely to leave their homes for a few days, and 92% of caregivers identifying at least one activity they are less likely to do now.
The Urgent Need for Change
“Bladder cancer does not receive the attention it deserves, despite being one of the 10 most diagnosed cancers,” says Alex Filicevas, Executive Director of the World Bladder Cancer Patient Coalition. The report underscores the urgent need for change in recognising the emotional toll this disease takes on patients and their caregivers.
Bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the Western world, with 151,000 new cases diagnosed in Europe annually. However, it remains relatively unknown, with 32% of people unaware of its existence. This lack of awareness contributes to ignorance and stigma surrounding the disease.
The Blame Game: Understanding the Stigma
Furthermore, individuals with bladder cancer often feel blamed and judged by their friends, family, and even doctors due to lifestyle choices. Smoking, a significant risk factor for bladder cancer, is responsible for 45% of cases. Patients who have smoked in the past feel that they are seen as blameworthy, and younger patients, regardless of risk factors, believe they are to blame for their disease.
A Call for Comprehensive Support
The ‘Facing Bladder Cancer’ report calls for urgent change to support patients and their caregivers. A striking 71% of patients aged 18-39 require emotional or psychological support from their families at various stages, including after a cystectomy. Raising awareness about bladder cancer, fostering empathy for those affected, and recognising the needs of caregivers are critical steps in addressing the issues highlighted in this report.
Healthcare systems also need to adopt more efficient strategies for earlier diagnosis and improved communication among healthcare professionals to enhance patient outcomes.
In conclusion, the ‘Facing Bladder Cancer’ report highlights the profound impact of living with bladder cancer on both patients and their caregivers. Lack of awareness of this disease has been linked to declining mental health, which, in turn, affects prognosis. To improve outcomes for those affected, there must be a concerted effort to increase education and provide resources to support affected communities.
Mental health support should therefore be an integral part of bladder cancer treatment, given the alarming statistics. Life is challenging enough, and dealing with a debilitating disease like bladder cancer can push many individuals to their limits.