Depression and Cancer

Depression is a disabling mental illness that affects 15-20% of cancer patients. Both men and women are affected equally. Depression and anxiety often plague a person with cancer for a variety of reasons, from self esteem and lifestyle, to legal concerns and fear of death. People who are diagnosed with cancer can react to these issues in different ways and not everyone who has a cancer diagnosis will experience depression or anxiety. Additionally, it’s important to remember that someone can experience depression or anxiety related to a cancer diagnosis at any point after the initial diagnosis and treatment; months or even years later is not uncommon.

It is important to grieve the potential loss of a person’s life and future, but if you or someone you know has been sad for a prolonged period of time and struggles to carry out day-to-day activities, that person may have clinical depression. Some symptoms of depression are loss of interest in almost all activities, major weight loss or weight gain, extreme fatigue, trouble sleeping, remembering or making decisions, feeling guilty or worthless and frequent thoughts of death or suicide. Keep in mind that some of these symptoms, such as weight loss, fatigue or forgetfulness can be caused by cancer treatment, but if five or more of these symptoms happen for two weeks or more, you or your loved one should seek out a mental health professional.

Fear and anxiety are also a very common and normal reaction to a cancer diagnosis. Anxiety about treatments, tests, doctor visits and finances are all common, but some signs of serious anxiety include an anxious expression on the face, uncontrolled worry, trouble solving problems or focusing thoughts, muscle tension, trembling or restlessness, dry mouth, angry outburst or irritability. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms it’s important to speak to a mental health professional. Therapy at a qualified anxiety treatment center is often all that is needed to improve the mental health of the individual.

It’s important to note that cancer patients with more social support tend to feel less anxious and depressed and have a better quality of life. People with cancer find it encouraging to have people in their life that listen and help with the practical aspects or dealing with cancer. Asking family members and loved ones for this kind of support will help to reduce your stress. Also, being able to talk to your team of doctor’s about your concerns, fears, and other issues can help you feel more comfortable about your treatment. Bringing someone with you to doctor’s appointments may also help to alleviate stress and fear. Your doctor can also help refer you to a mental health professional is needed. Remember that you are not alone in your experience with cancer; receiving counseling for depression or finding an online forum with members on the same journey can offer support and insight to your situation. Remind yourself that you are not alone and there is always help, hope and love.