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How to Cope with Cancer: Depression

Updated on September 16, 2013
The prevalence rates of depression for solid tumors range from 20 to 50% (Pasquini and Biondi, Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health 2007, 3:2 doi:10.1186/1745-0179-3-2 )
The prevalence rates of depression for solid tumors range from 20 to 50% (Pasquini and Biondi, Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health 2007, 3:2 doi:10.1186/1745-0179-3-2 )

Based on research findings from The University of British Columbia team, among the wide array of different emotional states, depression is a mental health condition that can damage your chances of survival. It is estimated that death rates increase by 25% in patients with cancer that also showed symptoms of depression, while the percentage climbs up to approximately 40%, and even more, in patients that have been diagnosed with depression, in any form and severity. However, before proceeding to any conclusions further research is required to determine how other factors also contribute to increasing death rates among patients with cancer and depression.

Harbingers of Depression

It all starts with a feeling of sadness, which is perfectly normal to feel that way. All people feel sad when they lose something or get frustrated over something. Having being diagnosed with cancer is much the same, since you have lost something precious: your good health. That, plus the changes that occur in your life afterwards and the uncertainty of the future that prevails all contribute to feeling sad.

Sadness can stick around for quite some time or go away after some time, depending on other surrounding parameters that affect your emotional health. Is there was a list of the natural process that one goes through after any loss, sadness would certainly be in it. In other words, sadness is natural feeling and it helps a great deal talking about it with family, friends and even a counselor, as long as it does not crown itself in your life. Then, you would be called to deal with depression, which is a much more serious mental health condition.

Is it Sadness or Depression?
Is it Sadness or Depression? | Source

Is it sadness or depression?

Watch out for the continuity of sadness. If it doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks and you find it rather difficult to find pleasure in anything, then it is likely you could be depressed. Clinical depression is hard to identify; yet, it is a much more intense situation than just feeling down, so you could use that as a first indicator of clinical depression.

When depressed, your everyday things such as sleeping and eating, among others, become difficult to cope with. Depression is not only hard to deal with for you, but for the people around you, since it is extremely difficult for people to understand how you feel, unless they had been depressed themselves.

No matter what you may feel, just remember that:

Depression is NOT a sign of weakness and it CAN be treated, just like any other medical illness.

Symptoms of Depression can Include

(click column header to sort results)
Feeling sad, anxious/ everything is "meaningless"
Weight loss or gain
Loss of appetite
Loss of interest in socializing and doing everyday things
feeling tired and as if you don't have the energy to do things
concentration issues and difficulty in remembering things
sleep and eating disorders, with difficulty in sleeping and waking up very early in the morning
Feelings of guilt, or that you are not worth anything
feel irritable, restless and wishing for death to come soon
If you have at least 5 of the above symptoms for a time period longer than 2 weeks, on a daily basis, and if you have difficulty in performing your everyday tasks, due to these symptoms, it is highly likely you are depressed.

Cancer and Depression

Perhaps the least noticed (and one of the hardest to cope with) symptom in people with cancer is depression. According to research findings depression is common in about 60% of patients with cancer and can start immediately after being diagnosed with cancer.

Struggling to get over the diagnosis and through the treatment requires enormous amounts of energy and inner strength. Many patients with cancer admit being depressed only after they had finished their treatment, as they had practically no time to think when fighting cancer. It is then, when people around you expect you’d be fine since you have just conquered cancer, when in fact, you may be feeling even more down than before.

Again, feeling sadness is normal, however depression if left untreated could last up to many years, devaluating your life and blocking you from living the nice things in life. With proper treatment 80% of people with cancer that are depressed feel better in a fortnight’s time.

Important Note: Many claim that tiredness and weight loss could be symptoms of depression; however, these can be classic symptoms of your cancer treatment of cancer itself and have little-to-nothing to do with depression.

Coping with Depression: Suicidal Thoughts

Some people with cancer may have suicidal thoughts, either because they had lost their independence, or have advanced cancer or feel a lot of pain. In most cases, those people only think of wanting to die without actually planning to commit suicide, which is called passive suicide thinking and needs medical assistance to help you cope with your cancer and treatment.

It is of great necessity to ask for professional help if you feel that your life has no meaning and it just doesn’t worth it, not to mention if you are considering of hurting yourself in any way. When people are depressed tend to have a different outlook on life, which blurs their clear thinking and feel completely hopeless. Talking to a professional about your feelings will definitely help you see the clearer picture and realize that there is so much more waiting around the corner for you.

If you know someone that portrays depressive behaviors, it is strongly suggested to either inform their GP, if you are very worried about them, or teach them into getting medical help. Of course, by no means, should you ignore any threat to commit suicide from people with cancer. As a matter of fact, the best thing you can do is to discuss about their thoughts and show them you really care for them. Maybe that is what they need to remember and feel at full. For many people, talking about such dark thoughts helps them exorcize those thoughts and move on with their life.

Bottom Line: TALK to your people and your doctor about your thoughts, emotions and feelings. They can help you deal with the symptoms and side effects of cancer and allow you to control them. Treating cancer pain can also be achieved, which will give you a sign of relief and start straying from suicidal thoughts.

Depression can Come after Treatment

Treating Cancer-Related Depression

Once you talk to your GP or cancer doctor, you will probably be prescribed antidepressants, which are drugs that will help you manage depression. Supplementary, you can ask for a psychologist’s help, who will also help you cope with your emotional problems.

It takes a great deal of courage and strength to identify a weakness and ask for help to start feeling better, which is why depression is nothing close to being weak, as some might think.

What is a common thought among people will depression is that their life will never better and that they will be experiencing the same inner pain and sorrow for the rest of their life. This is wrong. You can never imagine how speedy your recovery can via medical treatment

Antidepressant drugs can help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Antidepressant drugs can help alleviate symptoms of depression.

1. Antidepressant drugs

Antidepressants will help lift your spirits, but will not cure depression. However, you will certainly feel more positively. Many people with depression say that they feel as if they are inside a black tunnel and have no way or strength to find a way out into the light again. What antidepressant drugs do is to help you reach out for the light and take a step closer to it as time goes by. That way, you will take control of yourself again.

Depression could also occur due to chemical reactions in the brain. Hormones, like serotonin and dopamine that are responsible for controlling your mood lose balance and you end up feeling more blue than never before. Antidepressant also restore the balance of those hormones.

Respond to antidepressant drugs is impressive. About 70% of people with depression find themselves feeling better a few weeks to a few months after they have started taking antidepressants, even though some might need to change antidepressants if one type won’t work for them. The new generation antidepressants are far more effective than those prescribed a decade back, and they also have fewer side effects too.

Psychotherapy is characterized by two main types: CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and Interpersonal Therapy.
Psychotherapy is characterized by two main types: CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and Interpersonal Therapy. | Source

2. Counseling or psychotherapy

Although there is still a wrongfully-placed concept in regards counselling and psychotherapy, according to which it is believed that they are both treatments that apply to the mentally ill individuals, the truth could be far from close. Although they are not effective to everyone, they can provide great help to some. If you combine them with antidepressants, then you raise the chances to cope with depression, since both counseling and antidepressants complement each other.

Counseling or psychotherapy can be used from people with various emotional difficulties and behavioral challenges. Apart from depression, counseling can be used to treat phobias, eating disorders, shyness, sleeping disorders and severe anxiety.

Psychotherapy is characterized by two main types:

a) 1) CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and

b) 2) Interpersonal Therapy

a) Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT aims to help people with depression change their reactions to specific situations, by allowing the individual to get to know more of their own cognition, meaning thoughts and mental processes and decision-making towards specific situations, and make them understand the mechanism and strength of thoughts that contribute to depression.

With CBT you will learn how to calm your mind and body and manage to take control of your emotions, think clearly and look on the brighter side of life.

b) Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal Therapy focuses on improving your relationships with others and most importantly with yourself. By enhancing your communication skills, you help fight depression. An experienced therapist or doctor that is specialized in working with people with cancer and have depression can be the best thing you can do.

Extra Notes:

Other treatments to help with Depression come from Herbal Remedies (St. John’s Wort and Ginko Biloba). However, there is no sold proof that they are safe, even though they are natural products. You should be extra careful when you add ANYTHING to your medication, since cancer medication might interact with the remedies and suffer serious side effects, which is why it is very important to consult with your doctor for anything bothering your mind.

Cancer-related depression is one of the many issues that someone with cancer might need to cope with. Unlike what people think, say, show, realizing that you have depression and need some help to get yourself back on track is a sign of STRENGTH, rather than weakness...and from personal experience, I know for sure that cancer patients are full of strength,,,

Be Blessed,


Litsa Boudouri

© 2013 litsabd


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    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

      I can certainly understand how someone going through conventional cancer treatments would be very depressed. That's why it's important to spread the word that cancer need not be a death sentence. There are many, many options.