How Important is Mental Healthcare in Cancer?

How Important is Mental Healthcare in Cancer?

Cancer, though a physiological condition, takes a toll on our emotional well-being as well. The diagnoses could remind one of all the uncertainties in life because of the thoughts of death, disruptions in everyday life because of doctor consultations and treatment procedures, the inability to enjoy the activities they usually liked, and the feeling of helplessness and loneliness. The exhaustion, the emotional distress, and the pain can harm their mental health, leaving their body and mind both vulnerable. It is important to ensure them, with the technological advancements and successful feats in research; there is still a chance for the cure and support followed by improved quality of life.

How mental health is affected by cancer?

Cancer diagnoses not only affect the ones with the condition but also their loved ones and primary caretakers. It could be life-changing and emotional and hence becomes crucial to monitor and manage one’s mental health in those difficult circumstances. A research study mentioned that among the cancer patients who are treated in hospitals, one-third of them are estimated to suffer from a common mental condition. Also, 8-24% of cancer sufferers had to deal with depression.

How cancer survival is connected with mental health?

Researchers, time and again, have wondered whether mental health treatment could alter the course of cancer. Evidence from studies that mention those who are diagnosed and treated for depression or showed minimal symptoms of depression in cancer diagnoses showed longer average survival times, which could stand as proof. Because, depression could lead a cancer patient to miss therapy appointments, not take preventive screenings and not follow treatment plans. U.S. Veterans diagnosed with cancer and received mental health services had increased lifespan compared to those who didn’t. In cancer survival, love and emotional support from the near and dear ones play a pivotal role.

How to monitor mental health in cancer?

When cancer patients are undergoing treatment, their family members or their close ones could keep on their mental health. Signs such as life threats, diagnosis reactions, medication results, and associated mental health deterioration could be closely noticed as differentiating the physical and mental symptoms could sometimes be hard. Fatigue, sleeping difficulties, and change in appetite could be observed because of either cancer, depression, anxiety, or both. Cancer support teams aren’t adequately trained to recognize mental health problems. Given the time and money spent on cancer treatment, it is high time that mental health conditions are addressed.

Why is there a need to regularly screen for mental health problems in oncology settings?

Some of the co-morbid conditions existing with cancer include distress, depression, and anxiety.

  1. Distress: The one who is distressed experiences emotional pain caused by stressful life events making them sad or worried. The symptoms could be similar to the ones of anxiety and depression, and they include,
  • Feeling sad, afraid or angry
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or out of control
  • Feeling uncertain about their existence, purpose, or meaning of life
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Feeling confused about their familial and social roles
  1. Depression: The one who is depressed tends to be sad, lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, and sometimes, possess suicidal thoughts. The symptoms of the psychological condition include,
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling shaky or nervous
  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling moody
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lack of pleasure
  • Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increase in heat rate, dry mouth, and excess perspiration
  • Gastric or digestive problems
  • Physical pain, like headaches
  • Fatigue
  1. Anxiety: The one who is anxious tend to be worried, tensed, and intrusive in their thoughts, and the condition would further deteriorate when dealing with stressful life events. The symptoms of anxiety include,
  • Feeling worried all the time
  • Difficult to focus
  • Experience tension in muscles
  • Feeling shaky and trembling
  • Feeling restless
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling irritable or angry

How to manage one’s mental health in cancer?

  1. Take a mental health self-assessment: Utilizing the screening tests available online, could act as the initial step before consulting a mental health practitioner but the results need to be taken only with a pinch of salt because it is important to be mindful of the resources used to analyze the issues one experiences.

  2. Consult a mental health professional: Talking to our doctors and primary care providers about the kind of physical, mental, and emotional support services available could be the next step. The doctors could then direct us to the appropriate experts based on their psychological issues.

  3. Seek help from family and friends: Informing our family members and the close ones about the trouble one experiences while suffering from cancer could lighten our suffering, because the journey needn’t take a lone path, family’s love, and support could benefit us way more than we could imagine.

  4. Connect with others in a support group: The feeling of ‘I am not alone’ in this survival journey could lead the way in making the moments count. Cancer patients could make use of several online and in-person support groups found in hospitals and NGOs focused on cancer support.

  5. Be in the present: As the saying goes, live with all your might until life has been granted, enjoy and live every moment as mighty and mindful as possible. Prayers and spirituality, mindfulness, and meditation are some of the practices one could benefit from to be away from the thoughts of future events and outcomes.

  6. Maintain a journal: Journaling the cancer journey, the emotions one goes through in the process could be written, this helps in reflecting our feelings and thus monitoring our psychological symptoms.
  7. Exercise: The ability to participate in physical activity could vary depending on the diagnoses, precautionary measures, and treatment regimen one follow, but daily exercises such as mild walking could ease anxiety and depression.

How to manage a loved one’s mental health in cancer?

  1. Initiate a conversation at their own pace: It is important to be sensitive about their feelings, and never force them to indulge in any conversations or discussions that might upset them or their cancer diagnoses.

  2. Lend a listening ear: Never undermine, or deny their suffering and always actively listen to what they say and don’t say. Sometimes, silence speaks louder; hence, listen to them carefully and mindfully.

  3. Consult a mental health professional: Take professional advice on how to care for them, and if the care takes a toll on your mental health, talk about how it affects you personally and take necessary precautions to not affect them meanwhile. Join support services available for the loved ones and the caretakers who bear the weight of the support. Because the one who helps also needs help.

  4. Play along: Accompanying them on their walks and indulging in a group or dual physical activities could be intimate and supportive, and make them stay in their course
    of treatment effectively.

  5. Know their boundaries: Sometimes, it is not advisable to push them out of their comfort zone and insist they talk to others, be it friends or medical experts, or participate in any treatment they might not be interested in. The control they have over their decisions and priorities acts as a key for them to effectively go through every day.

  6. Care starts with you: The caretakers tend to burn out both physically and emotionally in taking care of the ones suffering from cancer. It’s important to notice any signs of exhaustion, and distress and rectify them. Respect your life beyond caring and supporting your loved one, take time for yourself, engage in any leisure activity that you would enjoy, and always try to be honest about your emotions.

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Psychologs Magazine

India's First Psychology Magazine 

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