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Depression and Cancer*

Depression and cancer are disabling conditions that affect up to 25% of cancer patients. People with cancer face a number of issues that contribute to feeling depressed.  These include a fear of death, interruption of life plans, changes in social role and lifestyle, changes in body image and self-esteem, work identify, financial and legal concerns.

While depression and cancer are common, everyone who is diagnosed with cancer will react to these issues in different ways and may not experience serious depression or anxiety.

Family caregivers are also at risk and have been found to experience a good deal more anxiety and depression than people who are not caring for patients with cancer. Children may also be affected when a parent with cancer. Also, children of depressed patients are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems themselves. The fact is that depression and cancer not only affects those with cancer, but also their family members.

There are many myths about people with cancer, including the following: all people with cancer are depressed; depression in a person with cancer is normal; treatment does not help the depression; everyone with cancer faces suffering and a painful death.  Most people with cancer are not depressed, but experience normal periods of sadness and grief.  Because there are many effective forms of treatment for depression, an important part of cancer care is the recognition of depression. Major depression is not simply sadness or the blues. depression and cancer occurs in about 25% of patients and has common symptoms that can be diagnosed and treated.

All people will experience reactions of sadness and grief periodically throughout diagnosis, treatment, and survival of cancer. When people find out they have cancer, they often have feelings of disbelief, denial, or despair. They may also experience difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, anxiety, and a preoccupation with worries about the future. These symptoms and fears usually lessen as a person adjusts to the diagnosis. Signs that a person has adjusted to the diagnosis include an ability to maintain active involvement in daily life activities, and an ability to continue functioning as spouse, parent, employee, or other roles by incorporating treatment into his or her schedule. When the family of a patient diagnosed with cancer is able to express feelings openly and solve problems effectively, both the patient and family members tend to have less depression. Good communication within the family also reduces uncertainty and anxiety. A person who loses interest in usual activities, may be depressed. Patients with symptoms of depression can benefit from counseling; however, when symptoms are intense and long-lasting, or when they keep coming back, more intensive treatment is important.

Fortunately, there is now an Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of depression in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our programs provide services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.

* adapted from NCI: http://www.cancer.gov