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​A million stroke survivors battling mental health problems

Press release   •   Jun 18, 2019 08:28 BST

Almost a million people who have survived a stroke have developed at least one mental health problem, according to new findings(i) published today by the Stroke Association.

There are currently over 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK, and more than three quarters (78%) face a battle with depression, anxiety, a lack of confidence, mood swings or even suicidal thoughts. Yet worryingly, over a quarter (27%) of people say they have not received enough emotional support to help rebuild their lives.

The Lived Experience of Stroke report is the Stroke Association’s largest ever survey of people affected by stroke, with over 11,000 people responding(i). The first chapter demonstrates how the hidden effects of stroke affect almost everyone, yet can often go unnoticed by people in a stroke survivor’s life.

The findings reveal the real impact that stroke has on survivors’ mental health, with many people having to adapt to a ‘new normal’ while still living with the fear of having another stroke.

While anxiety and fear(ii) top the list of emotions that have the highest impact within the first six months of a stroke, most respondents said these effects can improve over time. In fact, more than half (56%) of these stroke survivors report now ‘feeling positive emotions’.

However, one in six (16%)(iii) people who have survived a stroke reported having suicidal thoughts, and a quarter (25%) of those were parents with children in their households. The findings reveal that among those survivors who felt this way, nine out of ten (89%) people also reported that their personal relationships had been negatively impacted since their stroke.

The charity’s latest findings demonstrate how stroke changes lives in an instant. As a result, roles within relationships are turned upside down. Overnight, a partner becomes a carer. A breadwinner becomes jobless.

Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, comments: “This report exposes the true devastation stroke can bring. These figures are extremely concerning, and show a desperate need for support to cope with the hidden, and often overlooked, effects of stroke. Far too many lives have been destroyed by stroke, and no-one should be left feeling suicidal. The evidence highlights how important it is that families, friends and health professionals who support stroke survivors understand what it means to live with these ‘hidden effects’, ask how people are feeling, and provide appropriate emotional and psychological support.”

Arts journalist and former actor Roger Foss, 73 from Manchester, had been experiencing very severe headaches and peculiar visual distortions for around a year before he had a stroke in September 2017.

Roger said: “While I was in hospital I didn’t cope very well; I was scared of going to sleep, scared of walking about, always thinking that I’d have another stroke. I got myself into such a state that I had a terrible panic attack. When I was discharged I still felt so nervous about going anywhere or doing anything. A visit from the outreach team within a day of me leaving hospital assessed my needs and they recognised that I was experiencing severe anxiety and was completely worn out. I was referred to a cognitive behaviour therapist. On top of this I had issues with my sight, as well as cataracts that I’d struggled with before my stroke, which meant my vision was extremely distorted. I forced myself to go out and about, and with the help of my partner Liam I started to feel much more confident.

“In the meantime, I was contacted by the Stroke Association who gave me lots of information which I found really reassuring, while a little overwhelming at how much there was to take in. Over time I’ve learnt how to manage my anxiety which is thanks to the cognitive behaviour therapist but also to the Stroke Association, for suggesting things like meditation. Because of this advice I discovered the Buddhist Centre in Manchester and have been going there ever since for classes. It’s been a life changer.

“As well as my anxiety, I also had to come to terms with ageing and identity. It’s all been part of the experience. Looking back on my stroke, I now see it as an opportunity for a new lease of life.”

Worryingly, the research also revealed that an overwhelming nine out of 10 (92%) stroke survivors experience at least one cognitive effect, such as fatigue(vi), problems with concentration, decision-making, reading, writing and poorer memory. Of those respondents:

  • Almost nine in 10 (86%) of people surveyed experienced fatigue(iv), which can be debilitating and doesn’t get better with rest
  • More than eight in 10 (83%) stroke survivors said they have problems with their short or long term memory
  • Eight in 10 (80%) stroke survivors reported issues with concentration, which can affect their ability to do more than one thing at a time.

The Stroke Association has published the Lived Experience of Stroke report to expose the realities of living with stroke, and highlight the many gaps in support that still exist. The charity wants everyone affected by stroke to have access to the support that they need, when they need it.

Juliet continues: “There is hope. We know from these findings that things can, and do, improve over time for many stroke survivors. Evidence shows that many are still recovering years after their stroke. That’s why we’re now working across the UK nations to support and drive changes which will improve the lives of people affected by stroke.

“In England, for example, we’re working closely with NHS England to deliver the Long Term Plan for the NHS which includes the National Stroke Programme. This Programme supports health and care services to make improvements from prevention and treatment right through to rehabilitation and long-term support after leaving hospital, including psychological support for stroke survivors.”

Dr Eirini Kontou, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, said: “Many stroke survivors experience a wide range of overwhelming emotions, such as depression or anxiety, which can have an impact on their recovery and quality of life. There are effects of stroke that cannot be seen, so it is important that people can talk about how they feel and access the support required to rebuild their lives. This report highlights that we need to make sure that all stroke survivors and their families can get emotional support when they need it most.”

The Hidden Effects of Stroke report is part one of a four part series focusing on the Lived Experience of Stroke. For more information about the Lived Experience of Stroke – Hidden Effects report, visit www.stroke.org.uk/lived-experience-of-stroke-report.

For more details of support available in your area, please contact the Stroke Association helpline on 0303 303 3100. If you’re struggling to cope, you can contact the Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to a trained volunteer face to face.

  • When stroke strikes, part of your brain shuts down. And so does a part of you. That’s because a stroke happens in the brain, the control centre for who we are and what we can do. It happens every five minutes in the UK and changes lives instantly. Recovery is tough, but with the right specialist support and a ton of courage and determination, the brain can adapt. Our specialist support, research and campaigning are only possible with the courage and determination of the stroke community and the generosity of our amazing supporters. We’re rebuilding lives after stroke. 
  • We’re here to support you to rebuild your life after stroke. If you need information or just want someone to talk to, call us on 0303 3033 100 or visit stroke.org.uk