In this months COPING WITH CANCER Dr Isabel Schuermeyer (past-president of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society and a member of the psycho-oncology department at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH) discusses the mood and anxiety issues which are associated with surviving cancer
Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are common among cancer survivors, even those who have never experienced mental health issues before.
After a cancer diagnosis, people may say,
“Of course you’re depressed. You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.”
However, people use the term “depression” to describe feelings of sadness, but feeling sad (which is common and normal after a cancer diagnosis) is not the same as experiencing depression.
Major depression = medical condition that needs medical attention and treatment
Sadness = a temporary emotion that subsides on its own.
Major depression can affect both your quality of life and your ability to tolerate pain. It can even make it difficult for some survivors to stay with their course of cancer treatment.
The symptoms of major depression
- depressed mood
- decreased interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- poor concentration
- low self-esteem
- feelings of hopelessness
- changes in sleep or appetite.
While everyone feels down from time to time, in order for major depression to be diagnosed, your symptoms must last at least two weeks.
Mania can be thought of as the opposite of depression. When this mood disorder develops, a person may experience
- decreased need for sleep
- impulsive behaviour
- rapid speech
- increased activity.
Mania is treated with medicines that stabilise mood. Depending on the severity of the mania, admission to a hospital or mental health facility for psychiatric treatment may be necessary.
Anxiety is prevalent among cancer survivors.
Some people will have a specific phobia, which is a type of anxiety disorder.
Generalised anxiety disorder is marked by
- overwhelming and persistent worries
- poor concentration
- sleep disturbances.
Other anxiety disorders cancer survivors may experience can include post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
How to cope
Typically, coping strategies that have worked for you in the past will work again to help you during this stressful time.
It is best to pick healthy coping mechanisms, such as
- spending time with friends
- meditation, or mindfulness.
- support groups
The two main types of treatment for major depression and anxiety disorders are antidepressant medication and psychotherapy.
- Antidepressants are medications are taken daily and require a few weeks before reaching their full effect.
- Psychotherapy can alleviate depression and anxiety by helping you develop new approaches to managing symptoms and coping with general life problems. Psychotherapy can have long-term benefits, lasting even after completing the therapy.
If you develop symptoms of a mood or anxiety disorder, you should seek out proper treatment, talk to your doctor, friends family and mental health professionals. With the right treatment, mood and anxiety disorders can be overcome, and you can live well with cancer.