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Depression and Mesothelioma

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you both face a higher risk of depression. Depression is far more than simple sadness. It is a medical condition that must be diagnosed and treated by a professional. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of – it affects a quarter of cancer patients, and is a perfectly reasonable response to the fears and adjustments following a mesothelioma diagnosis. Fear of death, having to make rapid and critical decisions and plans, fears of financial crisis and even changes in body image following surgery can all cause grief, can interfere with eating or sleeping and can cause overwhelming worry and despair.

mesothelioma and depression

What is Depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in life. Everybody feels sad or glum sometimes, but most people rebound without help. Even under terrible stress, such as a cancer diagnosis, many people recover quickly from a bout of non-clinical depression. Clinical or major depression, though, does not go away quickly.

When feelings of depression persist for weeks or months, and when they begin to interfere with life, it is likely to be major depressive disorder. A mental health professional can diagnose depression and offer treatment options, including medications or therapy. A mesothelioma patient with depression will likely work with therapists or psychologists in coordination with their cancer care team.

Patient Risk Factors for Depression

Certain mesothelioma patients are at high risk for depression. Factors increasing risk include already being depressed prior to diagnosis, being in pain, being diagnosed at a very advanced stage, and being significantly weakened by the cancer. Family histories of depression, alcoholism or drug abuse also contribute to your risk, and so do some medications prescribed as part of your treatment. So it is important to talk about your feelings with your doctor. Mesothelioma doctors know the side effects of different medicines and treatments and are there to help you with more than just your cancer. They want to help your overall sense of wellbeing and help to improve your quality of life.

A patient’s anxiety and depression arises mainly from concerns about the illness itself, its symptoms, concerns about loved ones, and overall belief about life’s meaning and death. Patients do not want to burden their loved ones, or may worry about what will happen to them after they die. Other patients may find themselves feeling more depressed if they do not have a strong support system or extended family to help them to deal with their grief, as well as their physical condition.

Patients’ depression may also be exacerbated by other health problems that make their recovery from surgeries or mesothelioma treatments more difficult – these could include cardiovascular problems or diabetes. Caregivers and family members of someone with mesothelioma have at higher risk for depression as well. So it is critical for everybody within a mesothelioma patient’s circle to understand the symptoms of depression, as well as the availability of effective treatment.

Signs of Depression

Depression that can be diagnosed and requires treatment is more than just feeling sad for a short period of time. It is more than just having the blues and then feeling better the next day. Depression is persistent and someone struggling with it cannot simply cheer up or get over it. In fact, the person with depression may not even realize that they are suffering from it. As a cancer patient or the loved one of someone diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is important to understand the signs of depression and to talk to your doctor if you notice them:

  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, emptiness, and worthlessness
  • Changes in appetite, either eating more or less and gaining or losing weight
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping too much or insomnia
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Irritability, frustration, or angry outbursts
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or remembering things
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Physical pain that cannot be explained, such as headaches or backaches

Treating Depression

Antidepressant medications are the most effective treatment for depression. These are prescribed by a doctor. Your mesothelioma physician will know which medications will work best in combination with your mesothelioma treatment or any other medications you may be taking. Though antidepressants usually take a few weeks to start working, many people find relief more quickly than that.

Keep in mind that these medications vary in their effectiveness for different people. Your doctor may need to adjust your dose or to prescribe a different drug before finding the one that restores your previous healthy state of mind. Make sure that your physician is aware of any side effects you experience. Do not simply stop taking a drug because you don’t like the way it makes you feel. A lower dose or a substitute drug may provide you with relief.


For mesothelioma patients, time is limited and waiting weeks for a medication to work is not always practical. There are also effective types of therapy that can help someone with depression feel better. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common technique that therapists use to help patients recognize and change patterns of thinking that are negative. This and other types of psychotherapy help patients struggling with depression to learn how to cope with being sick.

How Mesothelioma May Trigger Depression

Being diagnosed with mesothelioma can be a trigger for depression for a number of reasons. The most obvious is coming to terms with being terminally ill. Facing death can depress anyone.

As the cancer progresses, there are other aspects of  mesothelioma can trigger depression. Being physically uncomfortable or in pain, being unable to work, having a different role in relationships due to being sick, seeing your physical appearance change and deteriorate – these can all trigger persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

As a patient with mesothelioma reaches the end of life, when treatments are no longer working, when the cancer has advanced and the patient is forced to make important decisions and face death, they may become deeply depressed. Even those who have dealt well with being ill up to this point are often vulnerable to depression. Coping with the emotional and physical pain of the end of life is difficult.

People with cancer, like mesothelioma, face related risk factors that make some more vulnerable to depression than others. These include having pre-existing depression, having an advanced stage cancer, which is common with mesothelioma, feeling a lot of cancer-related pain, and being physically weak or impaired as a result of being sick.

The Importance of Social Support

For anyone with depression, strong social support is vital. Having people around you who love and care about you will help you work through the feelings of hopelessness that come with being sick with mesothelioma. If you have depression, social support is not enough by itself to treat you, but it is a great tool in the fight against this mental illness.

Good social support can prevent depression in mesothelioma patients. That strong network of people who help, support, and care for a sick friend and family member can help them cope. Patients should certainly consider joining support groups of other cancer patients.

Depression in Caregivers and Family

When someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, many people suffer. It is not just the patient who is vulnerable to depression. A cancer diagnosis is a terrible blow to everyone in the family, and the grief it causes can lead to depression. The risk is greater for those family members directly caring for the patient. The burden of the job can really take a toll on mental health.

Depression is a serious mental health condition and it must not be taken lightly, whether it strikes a mesothelioma patient or a loved one. Everyone involved should know the signs of depression and should watch out for each other. Supporting one another and seeking professional support as needed is the best way to overcome depression.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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