World Mental Health Day 2022: Expert psychologist reflects on issues faced by young people with cancer

Posted 10th October 2022

To mark this World Mental Health Day, Monday 10th October 2022, Clinical Psychologist Dr Kate Edwards at The Clatterbridge CancerDr Kate Edwards, Clinical Psychologist

Centre NHS Foundation Trust reflects on her experiences of supporting teenagers and young adults with cancer over the last 15 years.

The Teenage and Young Adult Unit at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool cares for anyone aged 16 to 24 with a variety of cancers from across Merseyside, Cheshire, North Wales and the Isle of Man. Cancer in this age group is rare – with only 2% of all newly diagnosed cancers coming from this age group each year in the UK.

Alongside medical treatment, the Teenage and Young Adult Unit pays particular focus to the continued psycho-social development of the young people in their care.

Dr Kate Edwards has worked at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre for 15 years, she says: “The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre was the first Trust to employ a dedicated Clinical Psychologist into the TYA setting and the team here have always been incredibly welcoming and understanding of the importance of psychological support and interventions at a time of great physical challenge.

“People can be referred to me via their clinical teams or they can self-refer themselves or their family members for additional support.

“Being 16-24 years old is a transitionary period in our lives, where we are often discovering our own independence, interests and personalities. It’s often a time when we are leaving our family home for the first time or even starting families, careers or studying away from home. For a young person, as with any age, a cancer diagnosis during this period can be incredibly challenging, sometimes resulting in a feeling that your life has been ‘put on hold.’

“I support people going through treatment and beyond, as well as their family members in dealing with the diagnosis, their ongoing treatment and side effects and the return into society or ‘normal’ post-cancer life.”

Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches and methodology, young people are supported through anxiety, depression, issues with self-esteem - cancer treatment and medications can sometimes impact physical appearance – re-adjustment into life post-treatment and also side-effects of treatment such as associative sickness or needle-phobia before starting treatment.

Dr Edwards continues, “I think one of the biggest changes I’ve seen throughout my career and the issues we come across is with the development of social media.

“Social media for anyone can have many positives and negatives but for people who are already feeling vulnerable, the impact can be extreme. You see some young people who really benefit from using social media – who share their stories and connect with people around the world, getting a real sense of purpose and belonging from their posts and interactions. But you also see the negatives – people who see their friends and peers sharing their ‘normal’ lives on social media, meaning they can often feel left behind or have their feelings of isolation being emphasised.

“The impact of social media is becoming more and more documented but it is a real issue that we have to support our young people with.

“For me, it’s a real privilege to support people and their families at such a difficult and changing time in their life. People often assume my job must be really sad – and yes, there are sad situations but I enjoy being able to help in some small way.”

Dr Edwards also helped to set up a staff support network for anyone working across The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre with their own resilience and mental wellbeing.