Young cancer patients' lives 'derailed' by lack of mental health support, charity says

More specialist mental health support must be offered to young Scots diagnosed with cancer, a leading charity has said.

Launching a UK-wide campaign, “NotOK”, the Teenage Cancer Trust called for an end to the “postcode lottery” of discrepancy in support between health boards.

“There isn’t consistent access to specialist mental health support across Scotland for young people with cancer, meaning some can access that support while others who live in a different region can’t,” said Liz Watt, Teenage Cancer Trust Lead Nurse in Scotland.

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She added: “Young people are at a unique stage in their lives. They are discovering who they are and undergoing rapid developmental changes. A cancer diagnosis pauses that; they suddenly lose any newfound independence, and they don’t know whether they’re going to live or die.

Connor during and after treatment.
Connor during and after treatment.

"Tailored and comprehensive psychological support is vital wherever they live in Scotland to help them deal with the impact of cancer.

"Without it, there’s a risk young people’s mental health trauma will outlive their cancer diagnosis. That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government, alongside the other UK Governments, to keep young lives on track by ensuring this desperately needed specialist support is available from diagnosis, regardless of postcode.”

Connor 21, from Fife, was diagnosed in 2017 with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and lymph node on his back.

He was able to speak to a psychologist while in hospital having chemotherapy, and believes all young people diagnosed with cancer should have this support.

He said: “When I was told that I had testicular cancer, I was crushed. It took a while for the information to sink in and then I was just sat there crying. Then I had a panic attack while having my first chemo and I was worried that I would have more.

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"My nurse asked the psychologist to come and check up on me. She chatted to me about all of my worries. I told her that I was scared about all of the uncertainty and I felt like a lot of things were piling up on top of me. I had such a mix of emotions, such as anger, confusion and sadness.”

He added: “I’d found that people didn’t know how to talk about cancer or interact with people who’d had cancer. They either shut down or they asked lots of awkward questions. It’s hard for people to understand. I went back to the psychologist and told her that I felt vulnerable and embarrassed. She helped me realise that there was nothing for me to feel embarrassed about.”

Ms Watt added: “The timely Cancer Plan for Children and Young People in Scotland is expected to be published this August and we expect mental health provision for young people with cancer to be fully considered within that.

"We strongly hope that this Plan, alongside our calls for Scottish Government to agree and fund a model of psychological support for teenagers and young adults with cancer, will put an end to the unfair disparity in provision they currently face.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.

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