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Mental Health Services for People with Kidney Disease

By Cecily Sherlock-Huizing, LMSW, DaVita Social Worker, and Sara Lowe, LLMSW, DaVita Social Work Intern

People with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and their caregivers often develop depression due to the difficulty of adjusting to and coping with all the life changes that accompany both chronic kidney disease and end stage renal disease (ESRD). These feelings of depression and difficulty coping are very common, and even normal, for both patients and caregivers through all stages of kidney disease—from diagnosis to dialysis or transplant, and even in deciding to withdraw from dialysis. If you are a patient or caregiver experiencing depression or are having difficulty adjusting, there is hope. Treatment and relief can come in many forms. Relief can occur by utilizing one or a combination of the treatments listed below.

Educate yourself

Utilize the tools provided by your kidney care team. Ask lots of questions and read up on information regarding CKD and ESRD. Start by finding a no-cost, instructor-led Kidney SmartSM class in your neighborhood. You don’t have to be a DaVita patient to attend Kidney Smart; in fact, you and your loved ones can either go to one in person or sign up for online courses. You will find topics that cover the basics of kidney disease, diet and medication management, and treatment choices for those who need dialysis.

In addition to using websites such as for education, you can contact your local National Kidney Foundation (NKF) for other educational material.

Talk about how you are feeling

If you are feeling depressed or having difficulty coping, talk about it with your nephrology social worker and your doctor. They will be able to provide an assessment, supportive counseling and refer you for additional support services in the community.

Seek counseling

Outpatient services are available at a variety of different agencies in your community and can also be accessed by the local Department of Human Services/Community Mental Health. Inpatient services are available, but reserved for individuals who are deemed to be at risk for harming themselves or others. If you or someone you know is a risk to themselves or someone else, contact your social worker or local Community Mental Health agency immediately.

Support groups

Remember — you are not alone in your struggles with kidney disease and dialysis. There are people in the community who meet periodically to support each other. In many communities these groups are available to both renal patients and caregivers. The NKF offers support groups in many locations. You could also contact your nephrology social worker for other support groups that may be available in your community or at your clinic. Groups such as Dialysis Patient Citizens (DPC), the largest dialysis patient organization in America, offer support and camaraderie with other people who are on dialysis or have kidney disease. DPC is dedicated to improving dialysis patients’ quality of life through education and advocacy. Membership is free and open to all dialysis and kidney disease patients and their families across the country, regardless of dialysis provider affiliation. You can learn more about DPC.


There are a number of anti-depressants on the market today with minimal to no side effects. These medicines are effective in treating chemical imbalances in the brain that can lead to depression. Medicine is most successful when used in combination with counseling or other support. Discuss your concerns with your physician, as you may have other treatable medical conditions occurring that can cause increased feelings of depression.

Get help when you have kidney disease

Remember — your mental health affects your physical health and help is available to both people with kidney disease and their caregivers. Your nephrology care team, including your social worker, is available to provide support to renal patients and caregivers. If you feel you are experiencing depression or difficulty coping, please contact your social worker to further discuss the treatment options available in your area.

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