Depression and Mesothelioma
If you or someone that you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is important that you understand that you both may be at an increased risk of depression. Depression is far more than simple sadness. It is a medical condition that needs to be diagnosed by a professional in order for treatment to be provided. Experiencing depression is nothing to be ashamed of – it happens to twenty five percent of cancer patients, and is a perfectly reasonable response to the fears and adjustments that your mesothelioma diagnosis has created. Fear of death, having to make rapid and critical decisions about plans, fears of financial impacts and even changes in body image following surgery can all contribute to overall grief, and can result in difficulty eating or sleeping and worry and despair that can feel overwhelming.
What is Depression?
Depression, which is also known as major depressive disorder is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in life activities. All people go through periods of time during which they feel sad or glum, but most people will rebound with no intervention. Even when bad things happen, such as a cancer diagnosis, many people recover quickly from a bout of non-clinical depression. Clinical, or major, depression does not result in a quick rebound.
When the feelings of depression do not go away, when they persist for weeks or months, and when they begin to interfere with ordinary aspects of 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
There are variables that can put certain mesothelioma patients at higher risk for depression. These include already having been 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 can contribute to the risk of you becoming depressed, and some of the medications that are prescribed as part of your treatment may add to risks of depression as well. This is one of the reasons that it is so important to discuss how you are feeling with your physician. Mesothelioma doctors are familiar with 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.
Much of a patient’s anxiety and depression can be attributed to concerns about the illness itself, their symptoms, their concerns about their loved ones, and their overall belief about life’s meanings and death. Patients do not want to feel that they are burdening their loved ones, or may be concerned about what will happen to them after they are gone. 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. In addition to depression being a concern for the patient who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, caregivers and family members may find that their anxiety puts them at higher risk for depression as well. That is why 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 cannot simply cheer up or get over it. In fact, the person with depression may not even realize that they are suffering with this condition. 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 usual 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 experiencing 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
In most cases, the most effective treatment for depression is the use of medications known as antidepressants. 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 fully have an impact, many people find relief more quickly than that.
Keep in mind that these medications vary in their effectiveness for different people. It may be necessary for your physician to adjust your dose or to provide you with a different drug before finding the one that restores you to your previous healthy state of mind. Make sure that your physician is aware of any side effects you may be experiencing. 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 related to coming to terms with being terminally ill. It is not easy for anyone to face death in this way, but some people will develop depression as a result.
As the cancer progresses, there are other aspects of living with mesothelioma that 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, depression may occur. 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.
Among people with cancer, like mesothelioma, there are certain 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, experiencing 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, having strong social support is so important. 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 to treat you, but it is a great tool in the fight against this mental illness.
For a patient with mesothelioma that is not suffering from depression, social support can prevent it. That strong network of people who help, support, and care for a sick friend and family member can go a long way toward coping with being sick in a way that is healthful and positive. In addition to family and friends, patients should consider joining support groups made up of other cancer patients.
Depression in Caregivers and Family
When someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, many people suffer. It is not just the patient that is vulnerable to depression. Family members are also receiving a terrible blow with the news of the diagnosis. The grief that causes can trigger depression. The risk is greater for those family members who are providing caregiving 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 is the mesothelioma patient or a loved one. Everyone involved should be aware of 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 cope with feelings of depression.
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