Cancer, Depression & the Fear Factor
Did you know May is Mental Health Month?
If you didn’t, you’re not alone. I didn’t know until my friend Marie, from Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, pointed it out to me by asking me to join her (and the many others) in writing a blog post on this topic to share today on Mental Health Blog Party Day.
I know, I’m not crazy about that blog party title either, but bear with me…
It’s really no surprise that most people are completely unaware of this particular designation for the month of May. There seem to be a lot of awareness campaigns going on each and every month.
Who can keep track anymore?
Mental Health Month needs recogntion because mental health issues need much more discussion.
Mental health and mental illness continue to be neglected topics.
A dark cloud certainly still hovers over the topic of mental illness. People too often remain silent about it. Families continue to keep secrets.
People are still afraid.
Like so often, once again it seems to come back to fear.
But what exactly are we so afraid of?
Most of us don’t hesitate to seek help when our bodies are suffering, but it’s quite another matter when our emotional well-being is off kilter for whatever reason. People still hesitate to talk about their mental health status. People still hesitate to admit needing help when they cannot cope or don’t feel emotionally strong enough to handle things. People still hesitate to seek out that help. And sadly, people still suffer in silence, often needlessly feeling alone and ashamed.
Yes, we give lip service to the importance of the mind/body connection, but yet many of us do not whole-heartedly embrace this truth.
If we did, the stigma for seeking help regarding our mental health would not be so great.
We have come a long way, but there is a great deal more work to be done.
Some of this work needs to be done in the field of cancer care. This is what I would specifically like to address a bit further.
A cancer diagnosis has a profound impact on one’s mind as well as one’s body. I believe the mind is perhaps even more profoundly impacted than the body. The physical scars do indeed run very deep, but the “scars of the mind” are possibly etched in even deeper.
As we’ve all heard many times before, physical scars heal faster than emotional scars. And cancer can leave some pretty nasty emotional scars.
The emotional well-being of the cancer patient seems to be one facet of cancer care that has been neglected. It’s true, this is beginning to change, but it’s not changing nearly fast enough.
Statistically, a high number of cancer patients suffer from depression at some point following a diagnosis, sometimes even many years later.
And once formal treatment ends, one is expected to be finished with cancer. One is expected to tuck it away (where exactly are we supposed to tuck it anyway?) and get on with things.
This isn’t quite so simple for a whole host of reasons, too many to list here.
When formal treatment ends, very few cancer patients are given any type of “survival plan.” I sure wasn’t. Yes, there are follow-up appointments for a designated amount of time with an oncologist, but often that’s it.
Most patients are simply sent on their way. It’s implied one should just get back out there and figure out your “new normal.”
Most of us muddle through and do exactly this, or at least we try to. Most people can muddle through and get by on their own, but some cannot.
What happens to them?
I was never really asked about my mental health during cancer treatment and certainly not when it ended. Oh sure, I was often asked, how are you doing, Nancy?
But that was about it.
I never felt as if the “door had been opened up wide enough” for me to actually “walk through it” and explain how I was truly feeling and coping.
So I didn’t explain.
Not addressing the emotional well-being of the cancer patient is neglecting a crucial piece of treatment, in my opinion. I believe all cancer patients should meet at least once with a mental health professional. More times would be even better.
I also believe cancer survivorship should be an important phase of cancer treatment.
We are all fragile human beings and we know it.
Perhaps this is why we are so hesitant. Perhaps this is why we remain fearful.
We can all play a role in helping to remove the dark cloud that still hovers over mental illness and mental health issues in general. We can all become more aware, more knowledgeable, more open-minded and less judgmental.
We can all be a bit more understanding and a whole lot more compassionate.
Perhaps then the fear will begin to fade as well.
Do you feel there is still a dark cloud or stigma attached to mental illness?
Were your emotional needs addressed during cancer treatment?
Have you every suffered from depression or any other mental illness?