Every day, seven young people in the UK aged 13-24 hear the words “you have cancer”. This diagnosis can be hugely disruptive to a young person’s life. It comes at the same time they are undergoing rapid developmental changes and discovering who they are. Cancer can pause this; they can suddenly lose newfound independence and be overcome with worries as to whether they will live or die. The Covid-19 pandemic has only added to this, with shielding, lockdown and worries about the virus leaving many young people with cancer feeling more isolated and anxious than ever before.
This is why meeting the mental health needs of young people with cancer is vital.
Sadly, however latest research by the Teenage Cancer Trust has found that many young people in the UK are facing cancer without the psychological support they need.
Out of the young cancer patients they surveyed, more than a third had no, or reduced, access to a psychologist in the six months prior, despite feeling they needed this.
Research by the charity reveals that, in the six months prior to being surveyed:
• One in two (52%) young people with cancer they surveyed reported their mental health and wellbeing had been 'poor' (35%) or 'very poor' (17%).
• 57% of the young people surveyed felt they had needed to see a psychologist and whilst 22% had accessed this support, 35% either had not (20%) or had reduced access (15%).
• 70% of young people said that they had been negatively impacted by fewer opportunities to speak to other young people with cancer.
The charity has therefore launched its #NotOK, which shines a light on the inequitable level of psychological support across the UK for young people with cancer and calls for every young person to be able to access the psychological support they need from diagnosis, wherever they live. This includes from a psychologist who is an expert in teenagers and young people with cancer.
I agree with the charity that no young person should be left to deal with poor mental health on top of the physical impacts of cancer.
As Wales recovers from the pandemic and cancer services continue to rebuild, it is therefore more important than ever that we don’t forget about young people’s needs.
The Welsh Government must commit to accepting and implementing Teenage Cancer Trust’s recommendations so that young people with cancer across Wales can access the vital psychological support they need.
To find out more about #NotOK and how to contact Teenage Cancer Trust for further information, please visit www.teenagecancertrust.org/NotOK