Experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns are common after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Researchers are beginning to understand that depression and severe psychological stress could be even greater for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In a study published in the November 2022 edition of Frontiers in Psychology, Italian researchers explored how psychological stress differs for those with malignant mesothelioma. Disruptive symptoms, uncertain effectiveness of treatment options, poor prognosis, aggressive disease progression, and the cancer’s strong link to the occupational risk of asbestos exposure all contribute to the psychological stress that mesothelioma patients endure.
However, psychological stress and mental health assessments do not consider these unique conditions or the various ways mesothelioma patients may talk about their mental health. This new tool, which uses clear and simplified language specifically targeted toward mesothelioma patients, was more successful in helping patients self-report their mental health concerns than other questionnaires.
As more and more patients come forward about their mental health, health care professionals can better address and treat the severe psychological stress that so often accompanies this cancer.
Depression and Mesothelioma
Depression is a serious mental health condition that impacts a person’s mood and ability to think clearly.
People with depression often have overwhelming feelings of dread, sadness, and anxiety. This can impact their daily life and make it difficult to do things that they would normally enjoy.
Unfortunately, depression can be hard to identify. Some mesothelioma patients may feel they need to hide it from loved ones or not discuss their feelings due to fears of being judged or misunderstood.
Common symptoms of depression may include:
- Appetite changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive sleeping
- Lack of interest in activities once typically enjoyed
- Loneliness or a feeling of isolation
- Sense of hopelessness
- Significant, unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings, or recurrent thoughts of death
Why Are Mesothelioma Patients at a Higher Risk of Depression?
Roughly 25% of people diagnosed with cancer develop depression. Mesothelioma patients are at an even higher risk of developing severe depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of depression that develop after a mesothelioma diagnosis are similar to common depression symptoms. However, mesothelioma patients may also experience feelings of betrayal, rage, and shock.
Researchers believe these feelings of betrayal are exacerbated by the patient’s inability to continue working in the occupation that exposed them to asbestos — often a trade to which they dedicated decades of their life (and trust). As a result, mesothelioma patients often pursue legal resources to hold asbestos-product manufacturers accountable for knowingly putting millions of servicemembers and tradespeople at risk of disease.
Patients who file lawsuits against these manufacturers secure compensation for their medical treatment and other necessary expenses. However, the added stress of navigating the legal process while receiving mesothelioma treatment can greatly impact how both patients and family members cope with these circumstances.
Additionally, because mesothelioma is common among U.S. military veterans and people who worked in industrial or blue-collar trades, these populations may be even less likely to seek support or talk about their mental health due to the social stigma associated with mental illness.
Further, standard mental health questionnaires may not capture the reality of this group for many reasons. Some patients may consider their mental health challenges as only symptoms of mesothelioma or side effects of medical treatments. Other mesothelioma patients may not be familiar or comfortable with comparing their mental health symptoms to the clinical descriptions used in existing psychological measurement tools.
Without accurate ways to identify mental health struggles, patients may go too long without treatment and emotional support.
How to Find Mental Health Support Resources
Thankfully, mesothelioma patients who are experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles do not have to suffer alone. There are free support resources available for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.
There is no shame in seeking help for mental health concerns. Just as you would go to the doctor for a cold, it is important to seek care for anxiety and depression.
In addition to getting care from licensed mental health professionals, mesothelioma patients, and their families can also join support groups that meet online, in person, or over the phone. These groups can help patients, caregivers, and other loved ones find a community of people who understand what they are going through.
We’re also here to help. Contact our Patient Advocates today at (866) 608-8933 to learn more about resources that can support you through this difficult time.