A cancer diagnosis is bound to change someone’s life. The physical strain from treatments such as chemotherapy could challenge the normalcy of everyday living at the physiological level. Still, very little attention is given to the emotional strain a person goes through upon receiving such life-changing news. Since cancer treatment is often geared toward restoring physical health, a person with a diagnosis does not receive aid for their mental health.
Distress in Cancer: When Is It Too Much?
Cancer patients would often find themselves facing fear and uncertainty, which could lead to the feeling of distress. According to the American Cancer Society, ‘distress’ can be defined as “an unpleasant emotion, feeling, thought, condition, or behavior.” It could affect a person’s actions, cognition, decision-making, and ability to cope with the sudden changes in their life. Although it is considered a common response to cancer, it can escalate to serious mental disorders such as depression if left untreated.
A cancer patient may be diagnosed with depression if psychological and somatic symptoms persist for at least two weeks. These include:
- diminished level of interest or pleasure in activities
- significant weight change
- hypersomnia or insomnia
- psychomotor changes
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- poor concentration and cognition
- recurrent thoughts of death and suicide
Some studies gather that the physical and behavioral changes and mood changes in patients are often discerned as effects of cancer treatment; however, some of these are already symptoms of depression. Because of this blind spot, a large percentage of cancer patients would often opt to keep mum about their ‘persistent sadness’ because their physical symptoms are prioritized over their psychological symptoms.
Seeking professional help is perhaps still the best approach to address depression, but other factors such as environment, emotional support, and faith could also ease the burden of cancer patients.
Coping with Depression
- Social Support
A cancer diagnosis can take a toll on someone’s overall well-being. That’s why it is important to have external support that can provide strength amid a physical and mental battle with cancer. Having family and friends around could reduce the intensity of anxiety and depression, which may positively impact mental health. Companionship could also serve as a welcome distraction so cancer patients could momentarily forget the symptoms they’re experiencing.
Lack of support could be detrimental to one’s coping abilities and response to treatment. Since cancer is already an isolating experience, neglect and alienation could further worsen the patient’s well-being. In most cases, they prefer the company of their family in the process of recovery. If they are disregarded, they may see this as something more agonizing than the disease itself.
If social support is an external source of strength, then spiritual health can be considered the internal source. Spiritual health is mostly associated with peace of mind, a sense of meaning, and security. These factors are important because of a belief that health is not exclusive to physique; a positive outlook can also affect the body’s disposition.
Most people get in touch with their spirituality through religious activities such as prayer. Growing closer to God appears to help them gain strength and comfort while coping with their illness. Moreover, people with a firm belief in God and His plan usually find more significance in their lives; they believe that everything that happens in life has a meaning and purpose, even cancer.
Because of this, they tend to acknowledge the reality of their situation more openly. Since they consider it as God’s will, they often perceive their condition as a mere test from God and not a major setback that could alter the remaining course of their life. This could also reduce the feeling of hopelessness in patients and encourage a more positive mindset that may reduce stress levels and improve their response to treatment.
As mentioned before, mental and physical health make up the overall well-being of a person. Commonly, exercise is known to help release endorphins to the body. Chasing a ‘runner’s high’ could bring about a sense of joy that could help reduce the feeling of pain and improve the overall disposition of the body.
In cancer patients, being physically active could also help mitigate some side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue. Moreover, certain activities such as aerobic exercise, resistance training, and strength training suggest improvement in psychological health.
Although being physically active appears to be better than being idle, it is still important to first consult a doctor before engaging in any form of exercise. A professional could assess the activities that would best benefit a patient in accordance with the other factors that may affect their condition.
Cancer is a major challenge in life that could inevitably affect both physical and mental health. Since it is commonly considered an illness that mostly affects bodily functions, the psychological symptoms are often overlooked in favor of the physical symptoms. Because of this, cancer patients may find it difficult to acknowledge their mental health problems and seek help.
Although distress is a common response to a cancer diagnosis, a patient could develop more serious mental disorders such as depression if their condition remains undetected and left unsupported. If some notable symptoms persist for at least two weeks, this may already be a warning that the mind is having a hard time coping with the influx of changes due to cancer.
On their own, cancer patients could take some measures to help improve their mental disposition, such as doing physical activities and praying to strengthen their spiritual well-being. However, companionship is also vital because it provides patients with the support and strength they need to go through cancer treatment.
Although these factors could alleviate depressive symptoms, it would be more beneficial to consult with a professional and get the appropriate treatment suited for your condition. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and begin your journey toward healing now!