Emotional needs of people exposed to asbestos revealed by study

Posted: 5th Jul 18 10:00 AM

There is little known about the psychological care needs of people with mesothelioma, and even less about those who have been exposed to asbestos but have not been diagnosed with the terminal cancer.

A newly published research review has shed some light on the emotional stress people experience in these situations.

In March 2018, an article was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine highlighting the need of additional studies.

Researchers have described what is currently known about asbestos-affected people, and how and why they experience so much emotional and mental stress.

Exposed to asbestos through work

The authors of the study identified 12 papers on the psychological stress and care needs of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, and a further 9 papers about people exposed to asbestos without a mesothelioma diagnosis.

The results show the majority of people affected by asbestos were men and they came into contact with asbestos through occupational exposure.

Second-hand exposure, sometimes known as “shakedown” exposure, was the second most common way in which people encountered asbestos dust. Family members or others living with a person who worked with asbestos came into contact with work clothes, tools, skin and hair accidentally or unknowingly contaminated with asbestos dust and fibres. This is one of the explanations for the rising mesothelioma rates among women and a younger generation.

Mesothelioma and asbestos exposure cause stress

All of the papers reviewed concurred; mesothelioma patients experience significant psychological and mental stress.

When mesothelioma is diagnosed, the studies documented reactions of stress, including shock, anxiety, depression, apathy, anger and social dysfunction, in both patients and family.

Many mesothelioma patients directed anger towards family members and doctors, rather than past employers. The authors noted this may be due to the time between exposure to asbestos and development of an asbestos-related disease – anywhere between 10 and 50 years – and a feeling of loyalty towards employers.

Healthcare professionals were found to play an important role in the severity of stress. Professionals with better communication skills can help decrease stress and trauma among patients.

The most knowledgeable doctors and nurses are in the best position to help you navigate treatment options, and can do this with both skill and compassion.

Asbestos exposure brings its own challenges

Even in the absence of a diagnosed disease, people exposed to asbestos can suffer from significant stress too. Common symptoms of this group were:

  • Signs of depression
  • Anxiety
  • Despair
  • Fear of asbestos-related disease
  • Fear of a premature death, sometimes leading to post-traumatic stress conditions

In both groups, the most common coping strategies were avoidance and denial of the diagnosis or exposure. These are normal responses to stressful events and may seem helpful in the short-term, although they can make the situation feel much worse in the long-term.

Patients with mesothelioma showed signs of “sickness behaviour”, a set of non-specific symptoms; fever, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, trouble thinking and an exaggerated pain response – all occurring in response to receiving the diagnosis.

However, quality of life improves in people who receive the supportive care and help they need to cope with their mesothelioma diagnosis or past exposure to asbestos dust and fibres.

Wellbeing improved in mesothelioma patients and asbestos-exposed people who:

  • Have access to clear and accurate legal information on the possibility of compensation
  • Participated in an asbestos support group
  • Took advantage of physical therapy care to improve respiratory and physical function
  • Improved their diet to improve general health
  • Received palliative care

Mesothelioma UK

Mesothelioma UK is a national resource centre dedicated to providing specialist mesothelioma information, support and improved care and treatment for all UK mesothelioma patients, their carers and health care professionals.

Mesothelioma UK integrates into NHS front line services to ensure specialist mesothelioma nursing is available at the point of need. This has been achieved through a growing network of specialist mesothelioma nurses, regionally based in NHS hospitals and funded by Mesothelioma UK.

You can visit the Mesothelioma UK website by clicking here.

If you or a loved one is ever diagnosed with mesothelioma, or have had past exposure to asbestos in your working life, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline. We’re here to help you with advice about your condition and how to cope with it, and can also advise on any benefits and/ or compensation you might be entitled to. Call us on Freephone 0800 043 6635, or email enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk.

Further reading

What is mesothelioma?

What is the mesothelioma compensation claims process?

Peace of mind with our expert asbestos solicitors

What is the difference between mesothelioma and asbestosis?