Natalie McKay: Toll of a killer that too many don’t understand

ONE person has a stroke every five minutes in the UK. Thanks to the wide-reaching “FAST” advertising and ‘Make stroke a medical emergency’ campaigns initiated by our charity, as well as medical advances, stroke mortality rates have halved over the last 20 years.

However, this presents us with the challenge of ensuring that survivors and their families are getting the support they need for their best possible recovery after they leave hospital, and in the long term.

A stroke is a brain attack, which occurs because of a clot or a bleed in the brain, causing brain cells to die. Although it is one of the UK’s biggest killers and leading causes of disability, far too many people don’t understand it or ever think it’ll happen to them. Every year more than 10,000 people in Yorkshire have a stroke.

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A stroke can cause many physical problems, such as weakness down one side, problems with balance, mobility problems, and fatigue. Yet many stroke survivors tell me that it’s actually the hidden side of stroke which can have the most impact – not just to the individual, but also on their families.

The emotional impact of stroke is too often underestimated and overlooked by health and social care professionals. Our recent survey of 2,700 stroke survivors and carers, Feeling Overwhelmed, found that in Yorkshire, over half felt depressed and anxious after their stroke. One of the biggest fears for many stroke survivors is that they will have another stroke and this robs them of their confidence.

Emotional difficulties can also be very upsetting for the quarter of stroke survivors who are of working age.

Although people can look physically fit after their stroke, the emotional toll makes it impossible to return to work, and one stroke survivor recently told me she felt guilty because her colleagues thought she was off work for “no reason”.

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We all have a responsibility to understand the range of problems which can affect a stroke survivor’s wellbeing. I think it is really important for us, as a charity, to raise awareness of the emotional side of stroke, as we meet many survivors who are not getting the information, practical advice and support they need.

Many are left struggling to understand, cope and manage the emotional impact of their condition, and several have told me that they felt abandoned once the medical team had finished treating them.

One carer told me that she found it very hard to get the professionals to listen to her concerns about the changes in her husband’s emotional state. She felt that they had no knowledge of what her husband was like before the stroke, and she had to speak to lots of people before they listened to her and organised counselling support.

Good stroke care is not just about medical treatment. Supporting people’s emotional and mental health needs improves day to day living for them and their families, and improves recovery.

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Work by the NHS Stroke Improvement Programme shows that investing in psychological services can lead to net savings for the NHS and social care of £10m over two years, while improving prospects for stroke survivors and carers.

I know that there are people out there doing great work across health and social care in Yorkshire – people who really understand the emotional shockwave that accompanies stroke. Unfortunately this is not the case everywhere. I hope that through our campaign, every person who comes in to contact with a stroke survivor or carer has the confidence to listen and refer on as needed.

May is Action on Stroke month, which is about joining together to remove the barriers that hold back the recovery of stroke survivors, and getting everybody talking about stroke.

I’m encouraged that the Stroke Association will always campaign to raise awareness of stroke in our communities. This month, community fairs will be taking place across the county, and UK, to highlight the range of services available to stroke survivors in the area and show people how they can prevent a stroke.

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I will be attending one of the community fairs to get my blood pressure checked and I hope others will join me. High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke and the cause of half of all strokes. A quarter of Yorkshire’s population have high blood pressure, yet it has no symptoms, so unfortunately many people are completely unaware that they have it.

As well as the community fairs, stroke groups and clubs are coming together to raise awareness of stroke and fundraise, to help support more stroke survivors, during Action on Stroke month. We’ve created a really useful map of events at

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