Tackle cancer-treatment depression the right way
Patients before, during, or after cancer treatment or at the outset of diagnosis can present mood-related, behavioral, cognitive, and physical symptoms of depression. Depression is a mood disorder that can affect the coping mechanism of cancer patients. Since it can impact the quality of life, identifying depression and dealing with it are important steps to ensure an effective cancer treatment.
Symptoms of Depression
The following are the category-wise symptoms of depression.
- Guilt feelings
- Low self-esteem
- Frequent crying
- Withdrawal from the social scene, family, and friends
- Anhedonia (the inability to derive pleasure from activities, once considered enjoyable)
- Lack of motivation to carry out routine activities
- Trouble concentrating
- Suicidal ideations
- Finds decision-making tough
- Confused memory
- Anorexia (Loss of Appetite)
- Weight loss
- Insomnia (inability to fall asleep)
- Hypersomnia (feeling sleepy most of the time)
- Lack of sexual desire
Cognitive and physical symptoms of depression listed above are possible side-effects of cancer treatment or cancer itself. Thus, when diagnosing depression in a cancer patient, doctors stress emphasis on mood-related and behavioral symptoms.
Risk factors for developing depression in cancer patients
Cancer-related risk factors
- Depression at the time of diagnosis for cancer
- Advanced cancer stage
- Increased pain or physical impairment
- Pancreatic cancer
Non-cancer-related risk factors
- Life stressors
- Family history of depression
- Previous diagnosis of depression
- History of drug abuse or alcoholism
Depression in cancer patients can advance the risk of relapse following the treatment and impact the success of antineoplastic therapy.
As of now, there is no suitable screening method recommended for the diagnosis of depression in cancer patients. A simple interrogation cannot reveal sufficient information, especially when we live in a society that attaches a social stigma to illnesses related to the mind. Patients might feel reluctant in openly admitting about how they feel about their condition or whether they are depressed. Besides, feeling normal amounts of sadness after a cancer diagnosis is nothing to worry about.
One approach is to observe the patient’s social interactions with family members and friends. If the patient’s subtle remarks make room for suspicion, then a comprehensive psychiatric assessment for depression may be required.
Specialized cure followed by appropriate diagnosis would be the effective mode of treatment for addressing depression in cancer patients. For people diagnosed with moderate or severe depressive disorder, a blend of psychological care and medication has proved to be the most efficient treatment. And for those diagnosed with mild depression, an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a licensed counselor (mental health professionals) can help relieve most depressive symptoms.
Mental health professionals provide you with the necessary tools to help you cope with the disorder by developing a support system, and bringing you back from the negativity clouding your mind.
Psychological care is offered through group therapy, couples or family therapy, or individual therapy.
Psychiatrists are the ones who prescribe medications for depressive disorder, and they select the appropriate antidepressant based on the following factors.
- The extent of your depression
- Possible side-effects
- Other medications you were prescribed (few medications can interfere with antidepressants)
- Medical history
Some patients show signs of improvement after two weeks of medication, but it can take up to 6-8 weeks for the antidepressants to be wholly effective.
Make sure that you frequently update your oncologist regarding your appointments with your mental health professional. Let them know your progress and whether you are starting to feel better. In case the treatment fails even after 8 weeks of medication, consider other treatment options, or seek the services of a counselor.