Unmasking the Silent Struggle: Depression in the World of Cancer
Mental health care for depression in cancer patients is an often overlooked but absolutely crucial facet of comprehensive healing. The mere mention of ‘cancer’ can send shivers down the bravest of spines. It’s a word so universally recognized that even those who may not know its clinical definition are acutely aware of its formidable reputation; having the disease means sure death. It’s a disease that doesn’t just attack the body; it infiltrates the very essence of a person’s life by putting them in financial and social crisis. When faced with a cancer diagnosis, one finds themselves on a turbulent journey filled with uncertainty and profound questions about their future. The impact of cancer varies depending on the organ or tissue it targets, and it often brings along a host of co-morbidities. For example, liver, gall bladder, or bile duct cancer can lead to jaundice, while brain cancer can result in paralysis, loss of vision, or hearing. Cancer treatment processes like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are notorious for their side effects. Effective treatment involves managing the side effects and overall welfare of the patient.
Amid this arduous battle, depression emerges as a silent but pervasive companion for many cancer patients. In India, where one out of every three individuals grapples with depression, it’s a concerning reality. According to a study published in PubMedCentral, a staggering 55.7% of all cancer patients experience depression.
What is depression?
Depression, often referred to as clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is a common mental health condition characterized by persistent low mood, overwhelming sadness, and a profound loss of interest in activities that once brought joy. While depression can strike at any point in a person’s life, it is often triggered by a significant life event or trauma. It’s crucial to distinguish clinical depression from the transient feelings of sadness that can fluctuate with daily circumstances. Depression affects individuals regardless of age, but it is more prevalent among women and those above 60 years of age, although it can also affect teenagers.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
- Constant feelings of sadness or moodiness
- Feeling of low-self esteem
- Feeling of excessive guilt
- Feeling of hopelessness
- Insomnia or somnolescence
- Change in appetite
- Change in weight
- Low energy
- Loss of interest in activities that usually gained interest
- Irritability or anger
- Memory problems
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Difficulty while moving or moving slowly
- Difficulty while talking (inability to form full sentences)
- Chronic body pain
- Digestion problems (nausea, stomach cramps)
- Thoughts of suicide, self-harm or suicide attempts
It’s worth noting that the symptoms of depression may differ between men and women.
Women often experience a constant sense of sadness or emptiness, while men may exhibit anger, aggressiveness, anxiety, and restlessness. However, both genders share common symptoms like physical pain, irritability, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty with speech and movement, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
What is the link between cancer and depression?
The link between depression and cancer is undeniable and profound. A cancer diagnosis is a seismic event that generates immense stress and anxiety for both patients and their caregivers. The ability to navigate this challenging journey is often influenced by financial constraints and access to treatment options. Cancer itself brings physical health challenges, including the possibility of permanent disability or paralysis, further exacerbating the emotional toll.
The diagnosis alone disrupts normal life and routines, leading to prolonged periods of mental stress, isolation, and withdrawal from comforting activities. Beyond the emergence of depression and anxiety in cancer patients, these mental health conditions can also worsen the progression of the disease itself.
A study published in Oncology Letters revealed that 70% of doctors and 85% of patients recognized how depression contributed to the spread of cancer. Major depression can increase mortality rates by up to 39%, while even minor depression, characterized by just two symptoms, raises the mortality rate by 25%. Moreover, depression is intertwined with cancer symptoms like pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. It also heightens the risk of cancer metastasis, where the disease spreads from its point of origin to other parts of the body.Importantly, mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are not only risk factors for cancer but also contributors to unhealthy lifestyles, reduced mobility, and inadequate nutrient intake, all of which are linked to the emergence of cancer.
Researchers have even found a connection between depression and specific cancer types, including lung, gastrointestinal, breast, and urinary cancers, highlighting the far-reaching impact of mental health on overall well-being.
How do we treat depression in cancer patients?
Treating depression is a journey that requires an unwavering commitment to healing and understanding. There are three crucial aspects of treating depression;
1, Medication: Medication, often in the form of antidepressants, plays a crucial role in the treatment of depression. These medications can help regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, which are often imbalanced in people with depression.
Psychiatrists and medical professionals prescribe these medications based on a patient’s specific symptoms and needs. It’s important to note that not everyone with depression requires medication, and the decision to use medication should be made after a thorough evaluation and consultation with a healthcare provider.
2, Therapy: Therapy, including various forms such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), talk therapy, psychotherapy, and more, is an essential aspect of treating depression. It provides a supportive environment for patients to explore their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
Therapy helps individuals identify and address their depression and it’s causes, which may include past traumas, negative thought patterns, unresolved conflicts, or other psychological factors. Through therapy, individuals can develop coping strategies, build resilience, and learn healthier ways to manage stress and emotions. It can also assist in improving self-esteem and interpersonal relationships.
3, Lifestyle: Lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management are essential to ensure a good quality of life. Regular physical activity has a positive impact on mood and can help reduce symptoms of depression. A balanced diet with essential nutrients can also contribute to improved mental well-being. Adequate sleep is crucial for emotional stability, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is recommended for individuals with depression.
Stress management techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, relaxation exercises, and time management, can help patients cope with their mental health challenges.
Depression is a prevalent and serious concern among cancer patients, amplifying the challenges they face. Recognizing and addressing the mental health needs of individuals battling cancer is of paramount importance. Providing comprehensive mental health care alongside medical treatment can improve both the quality of life and the prognosis for these brave individuals.
Looking for a suitable mental health expert?
CancerMitr is a patient-centric health tech platform offering end-to-end cancer care, from discovery to recovery. We collaborate with top-tier psychologists to ensure your cancer journey is a seamless and memorable experience.