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Dealing with any cancer diagnosis—particularly with an aggressive type such as mesothelioma—can often come with a mixed bag of emotions. It’s normal to feel scared, angry, sad or overwhelmed. When a mental illness such as depression develops and takes over, however, those emotions are often intensified and begin to interfere with the ability to cope with daily life.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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Depression in Mesothelioma Patients Explained

Depression that follows a mesothelioma diagnosis is complex. While the mental illness can share the same symptoms as depression found in the general population, there are often unique feelings and emotions at play.

Betrayal, rage, shock—these are all common and very distinct emotions of a mesothelioma patient who has just discovered that his or her life-threatening illness derived from prolonged asbestos exposure in the workplace.

Fortunately, there is help for mesothelioma patients suffering from depression— and acknowledging your emotional pain is the first step in seeking help.

What Is Depression?

Depression is more than the typical feelings of fear, sadness or anger that almost universally accompany a cancer diagnosis. The mental illness interferes with daily life, often preventing patients from doing things they once enjoyed or crippling them with overwhelming dread or anxiety.

Depression can be difficult to spot. Some patients feel they need to hide it from loved ones, concealing their condition with a forced smile or positive attitude. It’s important for patients to open up to friends or family members and lean on their support system during this challenging time.

The following signs are common symptoms of depression:

  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Feeling lonely or isolated
  • A lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • Restlessness and/or insomnia (disrupted sleep)
  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • Overwhelming and prolonged fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty with concentration and/or memory
  • Significant, unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings, recurrent thoughts of death
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Depression Support Options

There are many different options that can help give you the support you need to treat your depression.

Discuss symptoms with your healthcare provider who can best advise which treatment options are best for you based on your type, severity and length of depression.

Counseling or Talk Therapy

A trained professional in the mental health field can do wonders for helping patients deal with their circumstances. Often it helps patients to simply open up and talk through the complex emotions they feel as a result of their cancer diagnosis.

A psychologist or psychiatrist can offer effective techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and will likely give you coping tools to use when you feel an intense emotion. Talk therapy can be offered in private, one-on-one sessions or small group settings.


Several types of antidepressants, including SSRIs, SNRIs and NDRIs, are used for treatment of depression. They work by changing the levels of chemicals in your brain, often improving mood and decreasing anxiety.

Your doctor will know which type is best for you based on other medications and symptoms. He or she will monitor you closely to see how you respond to medication and will tweak dosage or type if necessary.

Improve Diet and Exercise

Eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods and engaging in physical activity several times a week will go far in decreasing depressive symptoms. Patients should focus on lean protein, whole grains and plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

While it may not cure depression on its own, exercise has been clinically proven to improve mood thanks to its release of endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting hormones.

Holistic Healing

A variety of alternative methods have been found to decrease symptoms of depression. The same holistic options available for mesothelioma patients to reduce pain can be used as a way to reduce stress, improve mood and lessen depressive symptoms.

These methods include massage, reflexology, acupuncture, journaling and more. Talk to your doctor about alternative healing methods right for your diagnosis.

Depression in Mesothelioma Patients

Around 25% of cancer patients may develop depression at some point in their journey. If a person has mesothelioma, which develops after prolonged exposure to asbestos, the risk of becoming depressed increases.

Certain risk factors, including having a cancer with a dim prognosis such as mesothelioma, can exacerbate depressive symptoms:

  • Side effects of cancer drugs and therapies
  • Side effects of pain-relieving drugs such opioids
  • Having advanced cancer or poor prognosis
  • Nutritional deficiencies or problems
  • Pain
  • Blood or hormone problems
  • Lack of a support system
  • Previous history of depression or suicide attempts
  • History of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Having other illnesses at the same time

Loved ones should keep a close eye on cancer patients for mood swings, changes in behavior and the symptoms of depression discussed above. Offer a listening ear and gentle support if you are concerned he or she may be becoming depressed.

Learn how 7 mesothelioma patients became survivors with the help of treatment and family support — get your Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide now.

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  • Tips for fighting mesothelioma
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Depression in Friends and Family

A diagnosis of mesothelioma can uproot lives and alter the daily routines of more than just the cancer patient. It’s not uncommon for loved ones of cancer patients to be profoundly affected by the disease, often becoming depressed themselves.

Friends and family members, especially spouses or those in a caregiving role, are directly impacted and experience very real feelings of fear, sadness, anger, grief and more.

Symptoms of depression in friends and family are similar to those experienced by cancer patients themselves, and support options are the same. This is especially true for caregivers—it’s near impossible to take care of a loved one with cancer when you are unwell yourself.

Taking care of your mental health must be a priority for all those affected by cancer. Loved ones who feel their symptoms are interfering with their daily lives should talk to a healthcare provider about ways to find help for their depression.

Improving Your Prognosis With Mesothelioma Treatments

Treating the cancer head-on may be helpful in treating depression. There is help for those suffering from mesothelioma or another asbestos-related cancer.

Mesothelioma treatments exist to reduce or eliminate pain and decrease stress, which can, in turn, help to improve mental and emotional health.

See how 7 mesothelioma patients became survivors thanks to cutting-edge treatments and the support of loved ones — request your Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide now.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed” Retrieved from Accessed on July 8, 2018.

  2. National Cancer Institute, “Depression (PDQ®)–Patient Version” Retrieved from Accessed on July 8, 2018

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “Depression in cancer patients: Pathogenesis, implications and treatment (Review)” Retrieved from Accessed on July 8, 2018

  4. Canadian Cancer Society, “Emotions and Cancer” Retrieved from Accessed on July 8, 2018

  5. American Cancer Society, “Anxiety, Fear, and Depression” Retrieved from Accessed on July 8, 2018

  6. Cancer Treatment Centers of America, “Cancer-related depression: What is it and what can you do about it?” Retrieved from Accessed on July 8, 2018

  7. Oxford Academics, “Prevalence of Depression in Patients With Cancer” Retrieved from Accessed on July 8, 2018

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