Have you or someone you know gone through cancer? If you have closely witnessed someone’s journey of living with or surviving cancer, I’m sure you understand that cancer brings a lot of physical, mental, and emotional challenges with itself. Cancer and mental health are said to be interrelated in many ways. If you have seen a cancer patient, they can, in general, be irritable. In fact, they are more prone to facing mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, etc. If we, as healthcare providers or caregivers, can understand these challenges and issues, we can really make their lives better. In this article, I will be addressing all of it.
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” – Chuang Tzu 
What is the Relationship Between Cancer and Mental Health?
I remember when my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t say much. We thought she was handling it well. But it turned out that she was seeping into depression.
Getting the news that you have cancer can feel like your world is crashing around you. It can be stressful and can even cause anxiety and depression. Did you know that 33% of cancer patients who get their treatment from cancer specialists suffer from mental disorders ? The treatment process, also, is just painful and draining, physically and emotionally, which can further contribute to anxiety, depression, etc. That way, your willingness to continue with the treatment can reduce, and you may not even get the desired results  . However, with love, support, and care, a lot can change.
What are the Challenges of Treating Cancer and Mental Health Comorbidities?
If you or someone you know suffers from both cancer as well as mental health conditions, then you know that the two combined can create havoc in your life. It can be a challenge to treat both simultaneously, and other challenges can also come up, like :
- In some places and countries, mental health topics are considered taboo. So, getting treatment for cancer in such a condition can be difficult.
- Your cancer specialist and your psychologist or psychiatrist may not be able to coordinate to discuss a treatment plan.
- If you take medicines or go through chemotherapy and radiation therapy, you might face fatigue, nausea, etc., which can add to anxiety and depression.
- You might not get the treatment you need because of a lack of access to mental health care or cancer treatment, or both.
- Treating both mental health and cancer can be expensive, and you may not have the funds for that.
What is the Importance of Screening for Cancer and Mental Health?
You must be wondering why it is important to go through screening for both cancer and mental health. Screening for cancer and mental health is important for many reasons :
- Early Detection: If you go through screening for cancer and mental health concerns, you will be able to get an early diagnosis. That way, you can have a better chance of recovering completely from both aspects.
- Prevention: If you go for early screening and lifestyle changes, you can probably help yourself from having to go through the struggle of dealing with cancer and mental health conditions.
- Education: If you’ve ever gone through any screening, whatever be the results, your doctor will give you advice that can help you prevent diseases. The same is the case for cancer and mental health. Through screening, healthcare providers can educate you about the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle.
- Treatment Planning: Without screening, your doctors cannot identify how severe the conditions are. They use the results of these screenings to design a treatment plan for you.
- Quality of Life: Early detection of cancer and mental health can give you a better chance to recover from the conditions. That way, you can improve your overall health. In fact, it will bring a sense of relaxation for even your family members. You can even end up reducing the physical, emotional, and financial burden that comes with these conditions.
- Public Health: I always wondered what the doctors do with the data they get after screening. So, researchers take it for public health purposes, where they can identify patterns and trends in cancer and mental health. That way, they can build better treatment strategies and come up with better ideas for the prevention of both conditions.
What are the Strategies for Managing the Intersection of Cancer and Mental Health?
Managing cancer and mental health conditions together can require some well-thought of strategies :
- Communication: My suggestion would be to be very, very honest about your symptoms and any side effects you might be facing because of your treatment plan to your healthcare providers. That way, your doctors can design a more suitable plan for you to work with.
- Psychotherapy: Did you know that there are psycho-oncologists who understand both mental health and cancer? They can help you deal with the conditions in a better manner. They may use different therapeutic techniques, like CBT. Try consulting one. You never know, you might just find a listening ear.
- Medications: If you have severe mental health symptoms, then your psychiatrist might decide to put you on certain medicines. However, they will have to check up on you every now and then to see if there are any side effects or mix-match of drugs happening.
- Support Groups: Sometimes, talking to people or listening to people who are going through similar conditions are you can be a blessing in disguise. Try finding some support groups that you can join. They can make you feel at home and help you deal with your problems in a better manner.
- Lifestyle Changes: Our lifestyle choices have a lot to do with our health. Making healthy lifestyle choices is very important for you while you battle both cancer and mental health. Make sure to add at least 30 minutes of exercise to your routine, even if it’s just a slow walk. Along with that, you can add a healthy and nutritious diet, meditation, and breathwork.
- Palliative Care: Some healthcare providers suggest palliative care, irrespective of the stage of cancer you are at. That way, you can improve your overall health and quality of life.
- Caregiver Support: Cancer by itself can put pressure on caregivers. Add mental health to that mix, and caregivers might just be on the verge of burnout. So, if you are a caregiver, make sure you are taking care of yourself as well. You can take help from loved ones, support groups, etc. If you are well taken care of, you will be able to care for someone else.
Cancer by itself is challenging. But, adding mental health, it can be extremely tough to manage both. One way to deal with it is getting a diagnosis and treatment early. Take all the help you need- from healthcare providers, palliative care, or your family members. Remember to be honest with your healthcare providers and take your medicines on time. You can even work on improving your lifestyle habits.
If you or anyone you know is a cancer patient with mental health comorbidities, connect with our expert counselors or explore more content at United We Care Website or app! At United We Care, a team of wellness and mental health experts will guide you with the best methods for your well-being.