Here is good news for people with mental health issues
By David Pieper of Hepatitis NSW
Hepatitis C is more common in people with mental health issues than it is in the general population but recent medical advances present an opportunity to address this. In a new campaign called Change of Mind, Hepatitis NSW is encouraging people who live with hep C and who also experience mental health issues, to find out about changes in the treatment – and cure – of hep C.
In March 2016, the hepatitis C treatment landscape in Australia changed completely. New Direct Acting Antiviral (DAA) medicines were added to the PBS, drugs with very high cure rates (95%), working in as little as 8-12 weeks. These DAAs do not require injections and importantly they have minimal side-effects – replacing previous hep C drugs that caused mental health side-effects, including causing or exacerbating depression and psychosis.
However, despite the fact more than 30,000 Australians started hep C treatment in 2016 alone, there is concern that people living with mental health issues are missing out. To remedy this, Hepatitis NSW is working with BEING NSW to promote the new hep C cure both among mental health professionals and consumers.
The campaign is needed for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the prevalence of hepatitis C in people with mental health issues is higher than it is in the general population. While it is difficult to estimate the exact proportion of people with mental health issues in Australia who have hep C, academic studies have found rates of between 3% and 42% amongst people in Australian psychiatric hospitals, compared to just 1% population-wide.
The hep C of people who experience mental health issues may have been overlooked or under treated in the past due to a focus on mental health issues. Another challenge is to change out-dated views about hep C treatment.
The old, interferon-based treatments had significant, often debilitating, side-effects, and were particularly tough on people with mental health issues, including depression. As a result, people living with both hep C and mental health issues may understandably be wary about starting treatment – but they do not need to be, as the new Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs) have much reduced side-effects and are more suitable for people with mental health issues.
The side effects of the new hep C medicines are much reduced and are therefore more suitable for people with mental health issues.
The benefits of treating, and curing, hep C are considerable. Over time, people with untreated hep C can develop liver damage/failure and a number of other illnesses which contribute to a shortened life expectancy. Treatment and cure of Hepatitis C has a positive impact on the incidence and/or progression of all of these other physical illnesses.
Even people who don’t have noticeable symptoms benefit from treatment with many reporting having more energy and a new lease on life. Now that a safe and effective cure is available, there is no reason why people living with both hep C and mental health issues should miss out on these benefits.
The ‘Change of Mind about hep C treatment’ campaign will emphasise three specific messages:
- Hep C is higher among people with diagnosed mental health issues
- The good news is that Hep C can be easily treated, and cured
- Even more good news: curing Hep C can have multiple health benefits, including mental health benefits
People who experience mental health issues and hepatitis C deserve the chance to live better, healthier and longer lives. Now is an excellent time for anyone with mental health issues to be diagnosed and treated for hep C. Get behind this campaign, and help make hep C treatment and cure a reality. For more information, visit www.hep.org.au or call the Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 990.
How you can help
Hepatitis NSW is calling for expressions of interest from people who have experience of mental health issues and hep C to be champions for the project. If you are interested in championing the treatment of hep C among people who have experience of mental health issues contact David Pieper by calling (02) 9332 1853, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
A ‘Change of Mind’ poster can be downloaded from www.hep.org.au