Dealing with an illness as serious as cancer is no small thing. A cancer diagnosis of often accompanied with swift and aggressive treatment, and it’s all but expected that a person will be overwhelmed, worried, fearful, and anxious while doctors focus on their medical well-being. It’s true that anxiety and depression are two very real and very common consequences of a cancer diagnosis. But just because they’re expected doesn’t mean they can, or should, be ignored. Addressing the mental health needs of cancer patients at all ages is essential, and counseling for cancer patients is valuable for its own sake. But it does go a step further: failing to address these concerns may actually decrease the patient’s odds of recovery.
Depression is a very good example. A new study has found that depression is strongly associated with reduced cancer survival. Those who were not depressed, but actually felt hopeful, were more likely to recover than those who were depressed. But it was simply the power of positive thinking that helped them heal, say the study’s authors. “Simply believing there will be a good outcome” was not linked to survival. However, being hopeful did encourage people to take better care of themselves by taking an active role in their treatment decisions. People who were depressed, on the other hand, were less engaged in their treatment and recovery.
Anxiety and cancer are similarly linked, with one in four anxious enough to receive an anxiety disorder diagnosis and 3% actually exhibiting signs of PTSD. Even when people make a full recovery from the cancer, some walk away with PTSD, panic attacks, and new phobias of needles and other treatment-related triggers. While it’s certainly logical for medical doctors to focus heavily on the medical treatment of a cancer patient, mental health ought to be integrated into every treatment plan. Simply leaving depression and anxiety unaddressed for months of treatment not only diminishes the effectiveness of that treatment, but can leave emotional and psychological scars even if the cancer is gone.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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