A cancer diagnosis involves a continuum of different emotions for both the patient and family. For many a diagnosis is only the beginning of a roller coaster ride through a variety of stages; from treatment to recovery to post cancer care. Each of these stages elicits different reactions, both physical and emotional. Although most cancer patients and their families are all too familiar with the physical treatment and side effects, many forget that there are emotional elements that need to be addressed as well.
According to various sources, almost a third of cancer patients are struggling with mental health concerns (Mehnert et al. 2014; Singer, Das-Munshi, & Brahler 2010). Depression and anxiety are some of the most common concerns reported in this population. Some patients even report experiencing psychological symptoms related to their cancer and its treatment that meet the criteria for a posttraumatic stress disorder (Alter et al. 1996; Mehnert & Koch 2007). Even more concerning, Anguiano et al. (2012) suggests that the suicide rate for cancer patients is nearly double that of the general population. Unfortunately, due to multiple factors, many cancer patients’ mental health concerns are undiagnosed and/or untreated (Carlson et al. 2004; Fallowfield et al. 2001).
As with many things in the mental health field, awareness is the first step towards change. This change must be integrative and holistic, occurring on both a provider and patient level. Providers should have adequate training in recognizing mental health concerns and should be encouraged to utilize the available screening tools when needed. In addition, providers need a reputable referral base of mental health professionals that are knowledgeable and experienced in treating issues specific to cancer patients.
As a cancer patient/survivor or family member, being mindful of your mental health and its importance in your care is a first step. As with our physical health, prevention is key in our mental health as well. Even if you are not currently struggling with any mental health concerns, taking proactive steps to develop your emotional resiliency can be helpful. Some examples of things you could do to improve your emotional health and resiliency:
If you are currently struggling with managing your emotions or other mental health concerns, please make an appointment with a mental health provider and tell your doctor as soon as possible. They can help you develop an appropriate plan to address your concerns. Your mind matters and can make a difference in your treatment, recovery and quality of life.
**Disclaimer: The content of this article is based on the opinion and professional experience of the author. The content is not intended to treat mental illness and is not a substitute for professional psychotherapy services.