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Coronavirus mental health crisis for people with blood cancer

7th May 2020

United Kingdom

Over half of people who are shielding from coronavirus are struggling with their mental health and nearly one in 10 say the impact is severe, our survey of people with blood cancer has found.

Around 115,000 people with blood cancer are living under the strictest lockdown measures because they are at high risk of becoming seriously ill if they get COVID-19. The Government has told them they must stay home and avoid face-to-face contact, apart from hospital appointments, for at least three months.

We are calling on the NHS to ensure it is able to meet the increase in demand for mental health support during the pandemic and for the Government to start planning for how to safely bring people who are shielding out of isolation.

The survey of 1,077 people with blood cancer such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma looked at the impact of coronavirus on those who said they were shielding. They were also asked about their concerns during the pandemic and nearly nine of out ten (87%) said getting coronavirus, while nearly one in four (25%) were worried about the potential impact on their cancer treatment and also one in four (25%) about access to their medical appointments.

In addition, three out of four (75%) of the 605 friends and family members who took part in the survey said that supporting a person with blood cancer during the pandemic had increased their stress. Their most common concern was how they will manage to protect the person with blood cancer from getting COVID-19. They were also worried about the impact on treatment and hospital appointments and feared bringing the virus home if they have to go out to pick up food and medicine.

We have received more calls to our support line in the two months since the start of the coronavirus crisis than in the whole of last year, with around 90 per cent of people saying they are worried or frightened.

Georgie Swallow aged 27, from Buckinghamshire, has Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, and took part in the survey. She is shielding because she is at high risk from coronavirus after having a stem cell transplant at the end of 2019.

Georgie said: “It has been an emotional rollercoaster. I feel isolated, alone and upset that the life I was beginning to have after my stem cell transplant has been taken away from me. Because I can’t leave the house, I am in my own head 24/7 and at times get so low I just cry. The worst part is that I have been reliving the emotional trauma of my cancer journey. I recently went to the hospital for a scan and was worried about catching coronavirus and I was also scared because for the first time I had to go alone.”

Blood Cancer UK is working with medical experts and psychologists to provide information about coronavirus and emotional support specifically for people affected blood cancer.

Gemma Peters, Chief Executive of Blood Cancer UK, said: “Shielding is absolutely vital for saving the lives of those most at risk from coronavirus, but we must also address the huge mental strain this is putting on people.

“The Government needs to protect the mental as well as physical health of those who are shielding and start planning for how they will be safely brought out of isolation. With people expected to shield until at least mid-June we fear the number of people with blood cancer who are experiencing severe mental health issues will rise.

“All of our lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic and many of us are feeling anxious. But those already dealing with the emotional impact of living with a serious health condition are particularly vulnerable right now. Their mental health should be monitored by their GP to check they are coping.

“We also know from calls to our helpline that people with blood cancer are still struggling to get food and medicine and this is making an already difficult situation worse.”

Dawn, support line worker

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