Surviving cancer can bring about a myriad of feelings. Some feel relieved, some feel guilt, and some feel frustration. It is common to feel more than one thing at once, and it can be difficult to sort through what all those feelings mean alone. Awareness days, such as National Cancer Survivors Day on June 6th, help us better understand how to support survivors and shed light on a community in need.
Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and even the diagnosis alone can be traumatizing. Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is likely to present in survivors, as one’s body becoming an unsafe place is challenging to work through. Depression, anxiety, and symptoms of other mental illnesses may present even after remission for many reasons. The loss of autonomy, fear of death, the strain on family and relationships, a loss of career or hobbies and identity, and many other facets of the cancer experience can cause a shift in mental health.
It is estimated that up to one-third of people treated for cancer in hospitals have a mental health disorder. Anywhere from 8-24% of people with cancer are also living with depression. Population-based data suggest that cancer survivors are more than twice as likely to have disabling psychological problems than adults without cancer. Individuals who have both cancer and other chronic illnesses have a risk of psychological disability nearly six times higher than adults without cancer.
Many professionals wonder whether mental health treatment can change the course of cancer. One study found that those who got mental health treatment and had fewer symptoms of depression had longer average survival times than those who had more depressive symptoms. People who seek treatment for a mental health disorder are more likely to follow through with medical care and have a better quality of life.
There are several reasons a person with cancer may not get the help they need for their mental health disorder. Cancer, depression, and anxiety have shared symptoms like fatigue, lack of sleep, and decreased appetite, which can make recognizing mental illness challenging in some cases. Those living with cancer and in remission regularly face complex emotions, and figuring out what is a normal reaction to a cancer diagnosis and treatment versus signs one has a mental health disorder can be challenging.
There’s plenty of well-meaning content suggesting going for a walk or curling up with a soft blanket when sad. However, a depressive episode lasting longer than two weeks deserves clinical intervention. Symptoms of anxiety that make daily life more challenging deserve relief.
In addition to individual talk therapy, these modalities can be used as adjuncts:
EMDR helps reprogram the brain’s response to physical sensations. For example, someone who has undergone chemotherapy may experience a fear response to becoming overheated because the body has a stored memory of chemo side effects.
Cognitive or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (CBT/DBT) skills built with the help of a therapist can enable survivors to create a loving narrative between themselves and their bodies.
Breathwork/Somatic experiencing therapies help reintegrate the mind, body, and spirit.
Equine therapy is a great way to get outside and move slowly and gently; many believe animals can sense energy and offer healing in return.
Group therapy and grief counseling help build connections over a mutual challenge in a safe space facilitated by a professional.
People in an individual’s social support network include family members, spouses, and friends. A support network can significantly help reduce the feelings that come with surviving cancer. Individuals should not be afraid to ask for help from loved ones and friends. A lack of social support has been associated with higher anxiety levels and a lower quality of life in cancer patients. A lower incidence of depression is related to the ability of family members to express feelings and thoughts openly.
As a part of someone’s social support network, there are many ways you can support cancer survivors for National Cancer Survivors Day:
Honor their experience and encourage them to tell their story. Empowerment comes through ownership.
Encourage spiritual fitness to negate survivor’s guilt. Finding the meaning in life every day encourages positive thought patterns and feelings of universal purpose.
Fundraise or participate in a charity run or walk in honor of a survivor. Research various organizations that fund research or care for patients and ask your loved one which one they’d like you to raise money and awareness for.
This National Cancer Survivors Day, it is crucial to take a look at your mental health. Studies show that those who have received a cancer diagnosis have a high likelihood of struggling with a mental health disorder. However, many symptoms of mental illness may mimic those of cancer treatment. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of mental health, SokyaHealth can help. Anxiety, depression, mood swings, and many other symptoms can become challenges you can’t overcome on your own. SokyaHealth is a unique, multidisciplinary, private psychiatric and mental health practice. Our team of mental health experts prides itself on holistic and well-informed care while our patients take comfort in the compassionate approach with which they’re treated. We provide comprehensive mental health and wellness services to children, adolescents, and adults in California, Oregon, and Alaska. Call SokyaHealth today at 866-932-1767 to learn more about the integrative mental health services we offer.