Importance of mental health care in cancer

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a life-changing and emotional event for patients and their families, making it important to monitor one’s mental health alongside physical health.

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It’s important for loved ones of cancer patients to take time for themselves, stay engaged in activities, and be in tune with and honest about their emotions. (File)

Dr. Jyoti Bala Sharma

Cancer does not just affect your body, it can also affect your mind and many people will experience significant changes to their emotional health. When you first learn that you have cancer, it’s normal to feel as if your life is out of control. This could be because:

• You wonder if you’re going to live.

• Your normal routine is disrupted by doctor visits and treatments.

• You feel like you can’t do the things you enjoy.

• You feel helpless and lonely.

The emotional stress, uncertainty, and physical pain can all take a toll on an individual’s mental health It is important for cancer patients to focus on both the body and the mind. Remember that there is hope and help available, and many advancements in treatment of cancer.

How Cancer Affects Mental Health?

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a life-changing and emotional event for patients and their families, making it important to monitor one’s mental health alongside physical health. According to a study it is estimated that up to one-third of people treated for cancer in hospitals have a common mental health condition. Additionally, it is believed that anywhere from 8% to 24% of people with cancer also have depression.

The connection between mental health and cancer survival

Many professionals are wondering whether mental health treatment can change the course of cancer and there is good reason to believe it could! One study found that those who got treatment and had fewer symptoms of depression, had longer average survival times than those who had more symptoms. It’s observed in one study of U.S. veterans, cancer patients who also received mental health services lived longer than those who did not. I have felt it closely, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer with average survival of two years, lived quality life for six years. She had been a strong person but love and emotional support of family played a major role.

Researchers speculate that cancer patients who are experiencing depression may be less likely to follow treatment plans and take preventive screenings and more likely to miss therapy appointments.

Monitoring mental health

When going through cancer treatment, patients and their family, can monitor for signs of mental health issues. This is a group that regularly faces threats to life and figuring out what is a regular reaction to cancer diagnosis and treatment versus signs one has a mental health condition can be hard. Cancer, depression and anxiety have shared symptoms like fatigue, lack of sleep, and decreased appetite which can make recognizing mental health conditions even more difficult. Cancer care teams often lack specific skills to recognize mental health conditions. With so much time and money spent on cancer treatment, mental health services are often overlooked.

Researchers have suggested the need for routine mental health screening in oncology settings. Mental health issues commonly experienced by cancer patients include distress, depression, and anxiety


The experience of emotional pain due to stressful life changes that causes feelings of sadness or worry. Feelings of distress can manifest in ways similar to depression and anxiety disorders.

Symptoms may include:

• Feelings of sadness, fear, or anger

• Sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or being out of control

• Experiencing uncertainty about your purpose or meaning in life

• Pulling away from friends and family

• Worrying about your role at home or socially


A medical condition that can cause an individual to experience feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide.

Symptoms of depression may include:

• Emotional numbness

• Feeling nervous or shaky

• Having a sense of guilt

• Experiencing moodiness

• Having a hard time concentrating or feeling scatterbrained

• Finding it hard to participate in things you used to enjoy

• Thoughts about hurting yourself or committing suicide

• Sleep problems such as insomnia, oversleeping, or having nightmares

• Racing heart, dry mouth, or increased perspiration

• Upset stomach, headaches, or other pains

• Changes in energy level


A disorder that causes feelings of worry, tension, and intrusive thoughts. Anxiety can worsen when dealing with stressful life events.

Symptoms may include:

• Uncontrolled worry

• Trouble focusing thoughts

• Muscle tension

• Trembling or shaking

• Restlessness

• Dry mouth

• Irritability or angry outbursts

Tips for Managing Mental Health

Start with a self screening. Taking an online mental health screening, can be a first step in reflecting on one’s feelings before talking to their health care provider or a mental health specialist.

Talk to a professional. It is important for cancer patients to utilize their health care provider for information on physical and emotional health. They may be able to help with certain mental health issues and can provide a reference to a counselor or other support services.

Ask for help. Family members and friends can serve as a great support system. Cancer patients are encouraged to ask for help when they need it.

Join a support group. Talking to others who have had similar experiences can be therapeutic. Cancer patients and survivors may be able to find in-person and virtual support groups through hospitals as well as local chapters of cancer support organizations.

Live in the present. Finding ways to feel grounded and focused on the present moment can help to avoid feelings of worry about future events and outcomes. Prayer and spiritual practices are helpful to some cancer patients. Other options include meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Keep a dairy . It can be hard to remember feelings from a week ago, let alone the entire span of cancer treatment. Tracking one’s emotions on a daily basis can serve as a reminder for an individual to reflect on how they are feeling and aid in monitoring symptoms of mental health issues.

Make time for exercise. While the ability to participate in different levels of physical activity may vary depending on one’s treatment regimen and diagnosis, exercise can play a helpful role in managing mental health. Even light walking can help with feelings of anxiety and depression.

Cancer and Mental Health: Advice for Loved Ones

Talk on their terms. Be sensitive to your loved one’s feelings, and encourage but do not force them to talk with you and other family members and friends about their cancer diagnosis.

Listen. It is important to be there for someone who is going through cancer treatment. One of the best things to do is to listen well and fight the urge to deny or discount any negative feelings they share.

Ask a health care provider. Spouses and family members who interact with their loved one’s health care team can be proactive in asking for information about cancer and mental health. If needed, they can also support their loved one by asking for a referral to support services.

Join in on physical activity. Taking a walk together or engaging in other physical activities with a loved one can encourage them to keep up with exercise, benefiting their mental and physical health as they go through the cancer treatment process.

Respect Boundaries. Unless they ask for input, it is often best to not push a cancer patient on medical advice or treatment options they are not interested in. Honor their autonomy, and provide them with the support they ask for.

Practice self care. Sometimes caretakers forget to take care of themselves. It’s important for loved ones of cancer patients to take time for themselves, stay engaged in activities, and be in tune with and honest about their emotions. Avoiding emotional burnout makes it easier to take care of the people you love.

(The author is the Director – Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Noida. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of

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