Between October 2 and October 6, 2022, the 33rd annual Mental Illness Awareness Week reminds us to prioritize our emotional well-being, particularly when encountering severe hardships. This is particularly true for cancer patients who — while battling a terminal physical illness — are also struggling with depression brought on by a life-changing medical diagnosis.
Established by the United States Congress in 1990, Mental Illness Awareness Week takes place during the first full week of October each year. During this designated annual timeframe, Americans are encouraged to raise awareness about mental health, help eliminate the social stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and support those who are experiencing mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Cancer and Mental Health: Coping With Two Illnesses
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 25% of cancer patients experience symptoms of depression. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the overwhelming nature of a cancer diagnosis can induce feelings of anxiety, anger, and fear.
Cancer patients who struggle with mental health issues are a vulnerable population, although only 5% of them seek mental health treatment and services. In many instances, their depression also has negative impacts on their family members
“Depressive spectrum disorders are extremely common in cancer,” said Rosangela Caruso and William S. Breitbart, two doctors who collaborated on a 2020 international scientific research study that examines the effects of cancer on mental health.
“With cancer incidence increasing over time worldwide, attention to the burden of psychiatric and psychosocial consequences of the disease is now mandatory for both cancer [care] and mental health care professionals.”
As part of the study, Caruso and Breitbart found that, “Psychiatric disorders have been shown to affect at least 30–35% of cancer patients during all phases of [their cancer] trajectory, and differ in nature according to stage and type of cancer.”
Their study also found that 15–20% of cancer patients experienced “clinically relevant distressing psychosocial and existential conditions, [including] demoralisation, health anxiety, loss of meaning and existential distress.”
Mesothelioma and Depression
The population of cancer patients with depression includes those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Each year in the United States, 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a condition that also takes a heavy emotional toll on their loved ones and caregivers.
In most cases, patients with mesothelioma are given a life expectancy of 12 to 21 months, which can further exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression.
More commonly diagnosed in men than in women, mesothelioma is often associated with jobs that require employees to come in direct contact with asbestos, the fibers of which irritate and damage the lungs. Employees in these at-risk professions include auto mechanics, bricklayers, construction workers, electricians, firefighters, and military veterans.
In addition to their increased risk of prolonged asbestos exposure, military veterans are also more likely to be at risk for certain mental health issues than civilians.
In fact, of the 14–16% of military service members with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression following their service in Afghanistan and Iraq, 10–20% have experienced persistent and debilitating symptoms of their psychological diagnoses.
The Financial Burden of Cancer Care
According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, cancer patients in the United States paid $5.6 billion for cancer treatments in 2018. The organization also mentions that the total amount of money spent on cancer care in the United States is projected to be $246 billion by 2030 — a 34% increase from $183 billion spent in 2015.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 72% of Americans experience distress specifically because of money-related issues.
Over the last two years, stress about money seems to have increased for the myriad Americans affected by the lost wages, career changes, and permanent company shutdowns directly associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
The stress of financial instability, combined with the fear and panic of a devastating cancer diagnosis, can certainly contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression in mesothelioma patients.
Caregivers of Mesothelioma Patients
If a member of your family has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, and the stress of this cancer has impacted your mental health, there are a multitude of free resources that can help you during this emotionally painful time in your life.
For the loved ones of these patients, who frequently interact and care for them, depression can become like an invisible yet contagious illness, affecting an entire household or family.
It’s critical that mesothelioma caregivers receive the mental health help they need, too, in order to provide the best level of care that they can.
Seeking Help: Resources for Mesothelioma Patients and Caregivers
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — a grassroots organization started by family members of people with mental health issues — explains that 20% of adults experience mental illness each year, 5% of which are considered serious conditions.
NAMI also shares that 21 million Americans experience a major depressive episode each year.
Whether you’re a mesothelioma patient, a loved ones, or a caregivers, there are several ways you can receive mental health services and assistance:
Cancer Support Groups
The National Cancer Institute website features a digital database of more than 100 national organizations that offer emotional and financial support services for cancer patients and their loved ones.
Counseling and Therapy Sessions
Traditional talk therapy services led by a state-licensed counselor, psychologist, or therapist can provide you with a safe and non-judgemental environment to express your deepest emotions and concerns.
Talk therapy can also introduce you to techniques and exercises to help you better manage your anxiety, depression, and grief.
You can choose to join a group session or request a one-on-one session, depending on your needs and comfort level.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national, multilingual, free-of-charge suicide prevention network in operation 24/7. The toll-free phone number is 988.
Veterans seeking crisis assistance can call 988 and press 1. They can also send a text message to 838255 for free support.
Get in touch with our dedicated team of Patient Advocates today for 24/7 compassionate support. With more than 65 years of combined experience and more than 1,000 families helped, each of our Patient Advocates has a deeply personal connection to mesothelioma.
Get Involved: Mental Illness Awareness Week 2022
Mental Illness Awareness Week 2022 is a great time to reach out to those in need. Connect with your friends and family who are experiencing depression. Check in on them and show them that they are loved, appreciated, and remembered. As the pandemic continues to plague our society, though thankfully to a lesser degree than previous years, make sure to follow all required social distancing protocols during your visit.
The compassion you show others during their hardships might not cure terminal diseases like mesothelioma, but it can help bring comfort to a broken heart.