While it’s common to have good days and bad days during your cancer treatment, it’s important that you pay attention to the state of your mental health in case you develop deeper problems, including depression and anxiety, which can creep up unnoticed if you aren’t aware.
Just like any kind of physical illness, there is no shame in admitting that you are struggling with mental health issues and seeking further support. In fact, if you’re struggling with your emotions at the same time as battling a disease like cancer, it’s even more important for your recovery that you acknowledge those challenges and get help straight away. Taking a quick look at the stats will show how much these mental illnesses can increase under the stresses and strains of dealing with cancer:
Understanding the difference between depression and anxiety
Just as cancer develops in many different strains, affecting differing parts of the body, mental health issues come in many forms. However, not everyone is aware of the different types of emotional troubles that can affect you during cancer treatment.
For example, many people confuse feelings of depression and anxiety, when in fact they are very different conditions, although often they can come hand in hand with each other, they need to be treated in different ways.
Being able to distinguish between the two will help you get the support you need quicker. Typically, depression tends to emerge as feelings of despair, hopelessness and anger, which can affect your ability to carry out everyday tasks. Anxiety on the other hand usually evokes panic and fear, which can impact close personal relationships.
It’s important you look out for symptoms of either of these conditions to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Signs of depression
When it comes to your mental health, depression is probably the most commonly known condition associated with cancer patients. If you’re worried that you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, here are some of the key symptoms to look out for:
- Frequent low moods/feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness
- Feelings of guilt and tearfulness
- Irritability/finding others easily rub you up the wrong way
- Lack of motivation
- Anxiousness and worry
- Difficulty making decisions
- Thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm
There are also a number of physical symptoms associated with depression, which include:
- Slower speech/movement than usual
- Appetite and weight changes – usually a loss of appetite
- Constipation, aches and pains
- Poor energy levels
- Lack of sex drive and changes to the menstrual cycle among women
- Disrupted sleep patterns
Depression can also affect the way you behave in social situations. You could find yourself struggling at work, reluctant to join in social activities, arguing with family and friends, or failing to keep up with hobbies that you previously found interesting.
You don’t need to experience all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with depression; even if you recognize just a handful of the signs we have listed, you should seek professional support immediately.
Signs of anxiety
Another key mental illness affecting cancer sufferers, but which is lesser known than depression, is anxiety. If you’re worried about your own anxiety levels or of someone you know, keep an eye out for symptoms:
- Frequently being ‘on edge’ or having a general sense dread
- Restlessness and irritability
- Trouble concentrating
- Withdrawing from social contact
As with depression, there are also physical symptoms related to anxiety, which sometimes can arise suddenly in the form of a ‘panic attack’. These include:
- Dizziness and a fast and/or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling and shaking
- Dry mouth
- Muscle tension and aches, including stomach aches and headaches
- Pins and needles
If you experience any combination of symptoms or have concerns about your mental wellbeing, it’s vital to seek professional medical guidance as soon as possible.
Getting help with depression or anxiety
The most important person to speak to if you are concerned about your emotional wellbeing is your doctor. Don’t hesitate or view it as weakness, doctors regularly deal with these issues and they are common, especially in people suffering from cancer. In a secure, confidential environment, the doctors will be able to advise you on the best course of action to put you in a better place mentally.
There are a number of treatments available to you if you’re suffering with anxiety or depression, ranging from prescription medication to counseling. Together with your physician, you can discuss not only which is the best course of action for your mental health, but how your chosen path will impact your cancer treatment.
Whichever course of treatment you decide on, the most important things to remember is firstly; you’re not alone! Many people are suffering with very similar issues to you, and secondly; treat your mental health with the same priority as your physical wellbeing. Part of the battle for a healthy body is having a healthy mind, and therefore the more you can look after your emotions and inner strength, the better prepared you will be to tackle the physical demands of chemotherapy head-on.
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