Nearly 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, all of whom face uncertain futures that may include chemotherapy, radiation and mounting hospital bills.
While many tend to focus on treating the body, it’s important not to forget the emotional toll such a diagnosis has on patients and their families. Since this asbestos-related disease can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to develop, an individual may experience shock and stress upon learning of their diagnosis. They may also experience a related by-product: depression.
People with cancer are vulnerable to depression and as many as 1 in 4 may be affected. It’s important to identify these individuals, as depression often affects whether or not they keep to their particular cancer treatment regimens.
Dealing With Change
When people are diagnosed with cancer, they often experience grief and feel a loss of control over their bodies. Their work schedule may change or they may be unable to work during treatment. Cancer patients also experience financial stress due to medical expenses, as well as stress in their relationships because their spouses and children may need to help care for them or take on more responsibilities. Their sense of hopelessness in the middle of these changes may make them want to escape the world.
Cancer patients are more likely to become depressed if they feel weak, don’t get enough medication for pain or if they worry about creating extra work for family members. People who have been diagnosed with cancer, as well as their caregivers, must be alert to symptoms of depression. These include not being interested in favorite hobbies, a lack of energy, feeling guilty or hopeless, having problems with focus, and/or considering suicide.
People with mesothelioma must be able to talk with health-care providers about their emotions. If depression is diagnosed, individuals and their families can develop coping mechanisms to support each other during this difficult time.
Strategies for Battling Cancer and Depression
1.) Don’t Just Put on a Happy Face: While undergoing cancer treatment, some people feel like they should simply pretend to be happy. They may not want family members to know they are worried, and they may think that if they are positive, they can defeat the cancer. This idea can lead to feelings of guilt when that person is scared or angry. But while a positive attitude may be helpful, it doesn’t make someone more or less likely to defeat cancer. Caregivers must remember to let their loved ones know they will be supported no matter how they feel, whether they are cheerful, sad, scared or angry.
2.) Be Alert to Depression Symptoms: Caregivers should know that if their loved ones become more reclusive, it could be a symptom of depression. Family members can be alert to these signals and encourage their loved one to seek medical treatment. However, if someone seems seriously depressed, it’s best not to force them to talk about it. In those cases, family members should make an appointment with their loved one’s doctor to discuss symptoms and concerns.
3.) Support Treatment Process: After a depression diagnosis, caregivers can support their loved ones by making appointments for and giving rides to counseling sessions. Family members can also reassure their loved ones that it’s normal to be sad during these stressful changes, and treatment will help them feel better.
If doctors prescribe antidepressants, caregivers need to make sure their loved ones take these medications on the right schedule with the correct dosage. Treating depression can be a process of trial and error, so caregivers can be advocates and let doctors know if one medication isn’t working and perhaps another should be prescribed.
4.) Talking Therapies: Counselors or therapists can help people with cancer develop strategies to negotiate changes in daily life. They may need help adjusting work schedules or finding ways to stay engaged and feel productive. People with cancer may also want to see a counselor with their spouse. A mesothelioma diagnosis places a lot of stress on families, so it’s crucial to talk about ways to cooperate in managing the often-frustrating health care and insurance systems.
Mesothelioma patients need to find a counselor they trust and not be afraid to try more than one therapist. Different counselors use different kinds of therapies, so an individual should also consider which kind might be best for them. For example, in cognitive behavioral therapy, counselors help people train themselves to pay attention to their emotions. Individuals work on strategies to develop control over their feelings and keep themselves calm.
For some people with cancer, group therapy may also be helpful. In these sessions, people can talk with others who are going through similar struggles. Along with helping people feel less alone and isolated, individuals can share coping strategies about how to deal with changes in work and family life, as well as how to let themselves accept help from others. Group therapy sessions can also be a place to share information about community resources that offer support to people with cancer and their families.
5.) Antidepressants: Some types of depression respond well to antidepressants. These medications can change the balance of chemicals in the brain so an individual feels more equipped to deal with the stressors of daily life. For people with cancer, antidepressants may help restore their energy and resolve to continue with treatment. Most antidepressants start to work after three to six weeks, so it’s vital to remember they will not help someone feel better immediately.
Antidepressants also need to be taken in close consultation with a doctor. Some antidepressants should not be taken with certain cancer medications, foods or herbal treatments, so the health-care provider needs to know about all prescribed and alternative therapies up front.
6.) Help With Distractions: Caregivers can help support their loved ones by taking them on walks or going out to do things they usually enjoy, such as shopping or seeing a movies. While physical activity can have a therapeutic effect, it’s important not to do so much that your loved one ends up exhausted. Remember, both depression and cancer treatment methods can be physically draining. While some people may need gentle prodding to get out of the house, caregivers should find a balance between being encouraging but not too forceful.
7.) Offer Emotional Support: After a depression diagnosis, one of the most important things a caregiver can do is be present emotionally for their loved one. This includes actively listening to their feelings and being understanding. People with depression should not be told “snap out of it” or “just cheer up.” Both caregivers and their loved ones need to understand that depression can’t be changed quickly, but with the right treatment methods, people can start to feel better.
Above all, caregivers should be aware of the needs and moods of their loved ones, remind them that they have support in the fight against cancer and depression, and that they are not alone.