As many as 40,000 people in Ireland have inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD) and the majority of these have experienced mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, as a result of the condition, recent research has shown.
IBD is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Crohn's disease is the inflammation of the digestive tract and can involve different areas of the digestive tract for different people, while ulcerative colitis causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract, affecting the innermost lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum.
Most people with IBD are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35 and the main symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, fatigue, feeling generally unwell, loss of appetite, loss of weight, anaemia and mouth ulcers.
Recent research conducted among people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis found that mental health issues have a major impact on those affected, with 82% stating they have experienced stress as a result of their condition.
A further 74% have experienced anxiety, while 53% have experienced depression due to their condition.
In response to this, the Irish Society for Colitis and Crohn's Disease (ISCC) has launched a podcast, Gutcast, which aims to highlight the extent of mental health concerns among those with IBD, and the need for accessible supports for those affected, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ISCC has reported a 300% increase in calls to its helpline between March and June of this year, compared to the same period last year.
Some of the main concerns among those contacting the ISCC included how to maintain mental wellbeing and how to access healthcare appointments while adhering to Government advice to cocoon during the pandemic.
"Now more than ever we can see the importance of IBD resources people can access from the safety and comfort of their own homes. Gutcast will be a lifeline for those who have just been diagnosed, or are living with IBD, to better understand how to live a full and active life and how to navigate difficult situations like the one we find ourselves in now. It was designed to empower people to self-manage their illness in a really positive way," explained ISCC director and Crohn's patient, Amy Kelly, who hosts the podcast.
The podcast includes contributions from some well-known people who are living with IBD, such as professional rugby player, John Ryan. It also features contributions from specialists in this area, including consultant gastroenterologist at Tallaght University Hospital, Dr Anthony O'Connor.
He pointed out that within the IBD community, "there is a strong ethos of people caring for people".
"As we navigate our way through these difficult few months, this ethos is more prevalent than ever. With such high levels of anxiety, stress and depression experienced by people living with IBD, taking steps to improve fatigue, relationships and work life balance will improve the mental wellbeing and quality of life for those affected.
"Gutcast addresses many of the questions people may have and will help them to manage their condition with the support of their healthcare team. I would encourage anyone living with IBD, or indeed those with a family member or friend who has IBD, to download the podcast series," Dr O'Connor said.
Gutcast, which has been launched in partnership with Janssen Sciences Ireland UC, is made up of eight episodes, which are being released every Monday during July and August. Topics covered include your mental health, managing fatigue, relationships and sex, and managing your work and social life.
The podcast is available on the Apple Podcast App, Google Play Music, Spotify, or it can be listened to on the ISCC website here.
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