January 15, 2022
Getting diagnosed with cancer and receiving treatment can have a significant negative impact on the mental health of patients. The studies have found that almost one-third of the patients receiving cancer treatments have one or the other mental health problems. The prevalence of depressive disorders in cancer patients is three times that of the general population. Studies have also reported that young cancer patients are more likely to develop mental health problems than adult cancer patients. Therefore, doctors and family members must create a positive environment to reduce the psychological burden of cancer. The role of the patient is also vital in achieving this goal.
Psychological Burden of Cancer
Diagnosis of cancer, irrespective of the stage, is a mental, physical and financial burden for patients and their families. Despite the advancements in cancer care and given the fact that most cancers are now treatable, people still fear the forthcoming pain and possible challenges.
The strike to mental health initiates from the point at which an individual feels changes in their body, such as bleeding or lump formation. This stage is before diagnosing the exact reason for the physical changes. This phase is known as the recognition phase. The time to visit the doctor depends on several factors. For example, those who’ve had cancer encounters in the past are more likely to seek immediate medical attention. However, because of fear of getting diagnosed with cancer, possible financial stress and dependency, a few individuals delay consultation with the doctor; this results in persistent pressure.
In India, most families request the doctor not to tell the patient about the diagnosis. It results in the loss of opportunity to discuss the treatment plan with the patient and taking informed consent for the treatment (in some jurisdictions). Further, the patient is sceptical about his diagnosis in the recognition phase. The strange behaviour (excess care and stress on the face of family members) gives the patient a hint about the possible result of diagnostic tests. However, the patient becomes more stressed to imagine the horrible aspect of the disease that even the doctor refuses to acknowledge and inform him.
Common mental health conditions seen in cancer patients are stress, anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, lack of concentration and motivation, sadness, increased irritability and excessive worrying. Several factors play a role in the development of mental health conditions in these patients. These factors are fear of death, dependency and disfigurement, financial stress, reduced income and possible pain and suffering during the treatment.
5 Best Ways to Handle the Psychological Burden of Cancer
There are several ways to handle the psychological burden of cancer. Some of them are:
- Engage in a powerful cancer support network: In 2020, there were 19.3 million cancer cases worldwide. It indicates that you are not alone fighting with the disease. Engage yourself in a strong social support network. You may talk to those who are fighting a similar illness. Research shows that this will significantly improve the quality of life and enhance the chances of survival. Discussing your problem within the group helps reduce stress and allows you to deal with the issues and handle the side effects of the treatment.
- Meditation and Yoga: Yoga and meditation help significantly in managing the mental health problems in cancer patients. Unlike other management strategies that impart strength from outside, yoga and meditation help develop strength from within to fight against the disease. It creates a positive aura inside the body. Positivity reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Several studies have concluded that yoga can reduce anxiety and distress during cancer treatment. It also enhances cognitive function, emotional well-being and reduces pain severity and sleep disturbances.
- Exercise: Exercise has a unique role in the overall cancer treatment plan. It improves the mental and physical well-being before, during and after the cancer treatment. Several studies have advocated the implementation of exercise programs during cancer treatment. Studies have concluded that exercises reduce fatigue, increase strength and energy and bring down anxiety and depression.
- Psychotherapy: Opting for psychotherapy can also help patients in managing their psychological burden. Several psychotherapy options include supportive therapy, interpersonal behavioural therapy and cognitive therapy. Studies have reported that psychotherapy reduces psychological stress and improves the quality of life in cancer patients.
- Take help from family members: Your family is always there to help you. Therefore, it is necessary to approach them in case of any psychological issues. Do not hesitate to take their help when necessary. Studies have found that emotional strength from family members significantly improves the quality of life in cancer patients.
Psycho-oncologists provide psycho-oncology counselling. Psycho-oncology is a particular branch of psychology that deals with the social, psychological, behavioural, physical and mental health of cancer patients. Psycho-oncology services are available in some large multispecialty hospitals and dedicated comprehensive cancer care hospitals.
Psycho-oncologists help patients and their family members manage psychological distress through evidence-based approaches. These professionals assist the patients throughout their journey from diagnosis to treatment. They help patients in understanding the side effects of the treatment and how to cope with them. Further, the psycho-oncologists counsel the patients before and after the surgeries. They also help the families to come up with the terms of losing a loved one by delivering grief counselling.
Individuals diagnosed with cancer and their family usually experience a significant amount of emotional distress, irrespective of the stage of the disease. Therefore, healthcare professionals and family members must understand the psychological impact of the disease and deal with the patients accordingly. The family should always provide emotional, physical and financial support to the patient. The doctor may also recommend the patient to visit psycho-oncologists if the patient has deteriorating mental health.