Breast Cancer and Mental Health
Everybody affected by breast cancer knows the physical hardship associated with it. What’s not commonly talked about, but also important, is how breast cancer affects patients’ and survivors’ and as well as the care taker’s mental health.
It is very common to experience a wide range of emotions following a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, which includes fear, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and depression. They can have long term effect on one’s mental health.
As one discusses the treatment options with the doctor, one should keep in mind that treatment of the physical symptoms of metastatic breast cancer is just one part of a comprehensive plan. It’s equally important to consider the mental and emotional effects of the diagnosis, which is usually surpassed.
A history of mental illness can be aggravated by a breast cancer diagnosis, and the rigors of treatment — while life-saving — are difficult, leaving many women depressed, anxious, or feeling alone.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to recognize women affected by breast cancer and raise awareness about breast cancer prevention. Many breast cancer survivors talk about their struggles with mental illness. To honor their voices, here’s what you need to know about breast cancer and mental health.
How Breast Cancer Can Negatively Influence Mental Health
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you know first-hand that a diagnosis can have long-lasting mental health effects. From anxiety about the future to the stress of treatment, it’s totally normal to feel a mix of intense emotions after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Even though normal, this mayhem can cause lasting mental health challenges. Studies show that a majority of people with breast cancer will subsequently develop symptoms of PTSD, and these symptoms tend to last longer than a year. Even after successful treatment, fear of recurrence affects many women and can get so severe it undesirably influences their quality of life.
After a breast cancer diagnosis, a woman’s relationship with her body might change as well. While life-saving, mastectomies can decrease women’s body confidence, effect their relationships to their sexuality, and have a negative outcome on overall mental health.
Effects of Your Mental Health on Your Physical Health
Mental illness doesn’t just cause distress to breast cancer patients, it can actually impact their physical health as well, including their mortality risk.
It can become harder for a patient to cope up after a breast cancer diagnosis with pre-existing mental health conditions, in turn negatively affecting their long-term physical and emotional well-being. A history of trauma can increase breast cancer survivors’ risk of chronic pain even after treatment. More alarmingly, women with depression have a higher risk of mortality both from the cancer itself and from other factors — up to double the risk of death in elderly women.
While unattractive, these findings make sense. As the American Psychological Association points out, a breast cancer diagnosis is a traumatic event and it’s normal to have a range of emotional reactions to the diagnosis. Meanwhile, mental illness can aggravate these natural feelings, making it even harder for patients to do things that benefit their health, like eat healthy foods, exercise, connect with friends and family, and perhaps most importantly, observe with their medical treatment.
Prioritizing mental health can actually be lifesaving. Research shows that women with breast cancer who take benefit of mental health support have a decreased risk of recurrence and death, even years after therapy.
Caretakers Deserve Care, Too
If someone in your life is diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s normal to want to do everything you can to support them. That’s a great instinct, and your loved one deserves all the care and support you can offer. But in looking out for your loved ones, don’t forget to care for yourself.
A breast cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect the mental health of the person with cancer; it can also have a serious effect on the mental health of family and friends. One study revealed that men whose partners had breast cancer were at an increased risk of hospitalization for an affective disorder like depression subsequent to the diagnosis. While it’s easy to feel that you don’t deserve support since you’re not the one with the diagnosis, that’s simply untrue: taking care of yourself makes you better able to care for your loved ones.
How Providers Can Help
There are a number of things that providers can do to help patients manage the psychological effects of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Try not to let the stress posed by the cancer experience prevent you from continuing your life. Consider these 10 resources for mental health support.
- Visit a mental health professional
A mental health professional can help you cope with your diagnosis on many levels.
A professional can do more than just listen to your concerns. They can also teach you how to explain your illness to your children or how to deal with your family’s response. In addition, they can provide tips on controlling stress and teach you problem-solving strategies.
You can meet individually with a counsellor or psychologist or participate in small group sessions. Many non-profits also offer help over the phone.
- Be open with your family and friends
It’s important to avoid hiding from family and friends during this stressful time. Be open about your emotions and fears with them. Remember that it’s OK to feel frustrated or angry. Family and friends are there to listen and help you manage those sentiments.
Women with breast cancer who are more socially isolated experience an increase in cancer-related mortality. Try not to keep your feelings bottled up. Reach out to your loved ones for support.
- Join a support group
Support groups are helpful because you get to talk to other people who are experiencing some of the same things that you’re going through. Support groups can be in-person, online, or over the phone. Many support groups are tailored to your age or stage of breast cancer treatment or recovery.
You can ask your doctor or social worker to refer you to a local group.
Support groups aren’t for everyone. If you’re not comfortable expressing your feelings with a group, you may want to start with one-on-one counselling. But consider giving a support group a try to see what it’s like. You can always come back to it at a later date when you’re feeling more comfortable.
- Stay active in your community
Volunteering in your community can make you feel empowered. Helping others can be a rewarding experience. You can volunteer for an organization or a society. You can also contact a local charity to see if they need help.
- Reduce stress
Stress reduction can help you manage depression and anxiety. It also has a positive effect on your blood pressure and overall heart health. Reducing stress can help you manage fatigue as well.
Stress management comes in many forms. Here are a few good ways to relieve stress:
- deep breathing exercises
- mindfulness meditation
- tai chi
- guided imagery
- Consider additional medication
Up to 1 in 4 people with cancer have clinical depression, according to the American Cancer Society.
Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness, loss of pleasure in daily activities, and trouble thinking and concentrating that lasts for two weeks or more.
You may spend substantial amounts of time worrying about your future. Anxiety can be consuming and lead to panic attacks.
Don’t be ashamed if you need to take an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to help you deal with your diagnosis.
Work with your doctor or a mental health professional to find a medication that works for you. Make sure they’re aware of all the other medications you’re taking before you start taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. Keep in mind that these medications may take a week or two to take effect.
- Meet with a social worker
Figuring out the planning and financial aspects of treatment, such as insurance, can be a lot to think about. Ask your doctor to refer you to a social worker who has experience working with people with breast cancer.
A social worker can act as your contact person for sharing information between your medical care team and yourself. They can also refer you to further resources in your community and provide you with practical advice about your overall treatment.
- Seek further education
Uncertainty can have a negative effect on your mental health. The more you know about your diagnosis, the more equipped you may feel at making important decisions about your care. Ask your doctor for informational brochures or to refer you to websites to learn more.
Physical exercise is known to reduce stress and can even help you feel more in control of your body.
Exercise releases neurochemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins can help increase feelings of positivity. While it may not seem possible, physical exercise can also decrease fatigue and help you sleep better at night.
Activities like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, yoga, and team sports can be both fun and relaxing. Exercise can also get your mind off your diagnosis for a bit.
- Eat right
Your diet can affect how you feel. Consider avoiding highly processed foods, fried foods, sugar, and alcohol. While there’s no perfect diet for metastatic breast cancer, aim for an overall healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
When you have metastatic breast cancer, taking care of your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. Staying positive may be challenging. Take advantage of every resource available to you to support your mental health.
Visit your doctor or see a mental health professional right away if you’re finding it hard to eat, sleep, get out of bed, or you’ve lost all interest in your normal activities.
About the Author
Dr. Pashupati Nath is a well renowned Ayurvedic Doctor (MD),a coach, consultant. With 18+ years of experience as an Ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Pashupati Nath works with his patients to help them unearth dormant capacities that lead to more fulfilling life through the physical, psychological and spiritual way of Ayurveda.
Besides being an inspiring Ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Pashupati Nath is a gifted holistic coach as well and incorporates his knowledge of Ayurveda, myths and philosophy in his treatment – and by doing so, always manages to inspire those around him
He is a well renouned Ayurvedic Doctor (MD), he gives treatment to the patients through the physically,psychological and spiritual way of Ayurveda