Being diagnosed with cancer can lead to fear, anxiety and sadness. For the first few days, a person may be in a state of shock, wondering if this is really happening and wanting to stay in bed. After a few weeks go by, the patient will probably still be feeling sad and anxious, but starting to find ways to cope, with the help of family or friends. After about a month, which is also usually around the time that all of the tests are done and cancer treatment begins, people begin improving how they feel emotionally.
Some people, however, may still struggle with depression and anxiety after the start of treatment. In these cases, the patient may need to be treated by a mental health professional. Cancer centers often have multidisciplinary teams of social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, all trained to help patients overcome behavioral issues resulting from a cancer diagnosis.
Unfortunately, many people with cancer may be reluctant to ask about these services, fearful that people might think that they are crazy or that they aren’t fighting their cancer hard enough. But emotional distress is more than just feeling poorly; it can make it more difficult for people to get the cancer treatment they need and to take care of themselves.
Research shows that some people with cancer and persistent depression don’t do as well medically as those without depression. Getting help for emotional distress might lead to better outcomes.
Oncology providers have become increasingly concerned about the emotional well-being of their patients. In fact, in 2015, the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer started requiring cancer centers to ask their patients if they are having emotional distress.
Addressing mental health needs, including psychological and quality-of-life issues, is actually part of the cancer battle. By improving your emotional well-being, you can more successfully fight your cancer. Make sure you or your loved one get the medical and emotional care you need to win the battle against cancer.
William Pirl, M.D., MPH, is associate director for Cancer Support Services at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. . To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.