Cancer, in its dreadful nature, affects the physical and mental health of patients. Apart from the debilitating nature of the disease, patients are faced with many negative emotions born out of a cancer diagnosis. However, like any problem, there is a solution to the mental tussle caused by cancer in its patients.
In this article, the mental health of cancer patients will be discussed. There will also be a discussion on how anxiety, depression, and denial ranks top of the mental issues that most cancer patients face. Finally, tips on the management of these issues will be given.
Major Mental Issues Faced By Cancer Patients
There are myriads of emotions and feelings that come with the realization that one has cancer. There comes denial, anger, self-pity, sadness, anxiety, depression, and many more. Some people feel guilty, hopeless, and lonely. And for others, it may come in different feelings or different sequences. The overreaching point is that every cancer patient goes through a series of negative feelings and emotions on realizing their health status. These emotions which vary from person to person usually culminate into a major mental problem, if and when they are not checked.
Of all these series of emotions that cancer patients feel, three seem to stand out. According to statistics from medical research, these three appear to be common with most cancer patients around the world. These two feelings are anxiety, denial, and depression. A combined 70.4% of cancer patients were discovered to suffer from anxiety and depression in medical research carried out recently. Another study showed that about 10% of patients suffering from terminal cancer diseases did not want to accept that they are about to die. All of these statistics indicate that more cancer patients battle with these emotions that other types of emotions.
Generally, anxiety is a nervous feeling that makes humans feel worried. It is usually triggered by a threat which leads to the body worrying about the threat and seeking defences. However, when this feeling happens for a long period, it results in a behavioural disorder.
With cancer, anxiety can be caused by a lot of factors. These factors include the uncertainty about the treatment procedure’s efficacy, fear of the negative effects of the procedure, fear of relapse and regrowth of cancerous cells after treatment, and many more. Factors like the change that will occur in the patient’s life, career, and relationship. These factors represent a potential threat to the mind and body of the patient, hence the anxious feeling.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Cancer patients suffering from anxiety usually have the following symptoms. The increase in the manifestation of these symptoms means that the patient’s anxiety progresses from acute to chronic anxiety[GO1] .
- Dreadful feeling
- Reduced interest in happenings around the environment
- Rapid heartbeats or heavy heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Chest Pain
- Difficulty in breathing
- Feeling of Suffocation
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle tension
- Irritability and lack of focus
The prevalence of depression among the world population these days has been a major topic in the mental health circle. Due to many reasons, youths and adults of different genders have been showing symptoms of depression worldwide, making it a global scourge at some point. However, cancer has accounted for a sizeable number of depression cases in recent times. It was recently discovered that the risk of suicide due to depression is higher in cancer patients within the first six months of their diagnosis. The statistics are a scary one but expected, knowing the dreadful nature of the disease. In climes, where treatment opportunities are not easily accessed or very expensive, it is normal for cancer patients to feel depressed.
It is hard for cancer patients to accept their fate. The debilitating nature of the disease makes it so. As a result, many cancer patients delay going for a treatment procedure. Since they do not want to believe that they have cancer, it is hard to convince them to go for treatment. They want to live under the illusion and assumption that they are perfectly fine and nothing is wrong with them, health-wise. The aftermath of this delay in treatment results in the spread of cancer within the body, causing irreversible and uncontrollable damage. In this case, it is usually too late to go for any form of treatment.
Another form of denial observed among cancer patients involves refusing to accept a terminality of such forms of cancer. Some forms of cancer are terminal and usually result in the death of patients. In this case, the patient has a stipulated time to live after diagnosis. Some patients suffering from these forms of cancer find it difficult to accept it and thus live their last days in denial.
Managing These Mental Issues
There are a few ways through which cancer patients going through any of these problems can be helped. These include:
Acceptance: As hard as it may sound and feel, patients must accept that cancer is real, and they are a patient now. They should also understand and accept that they can beat and survive the disease with treatment and management. This is important for patients going through the denial phase.
Relaxation: Patients suffering from anxiety can be helped to relax their wandering minds. Many techniques can be used to effect this treatment. These techniques include Yoga, Deep Breathing, Meditation, Guided Imagery, and many more.
Medication: This is useful for cancer patients suffering from depression and anxiety. The professional use of sedatives helps them sleep. Sleep helps them relax and calms them a bit.
Psychological treatment: Health professionals and psychologists can help cancer patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and denial to overcome these mental issues. Moreover, the provision of coping systems and support networks helps the patients overcome these issues.
Cancer affects the physical and mental health of patients. Out of many mental health issues faced by cancer patients, anxiety, denial, and depression rank top. With health professionals, family, and loved ones, patients can overcome these mental issues associated with cancer.