About Cancer and Mental Health
It’s not unusual for cancer patients, their families, and caregivers to feel anxiety, depression, or distress after a diagnosis. The good news is that depression and anxiety in cancer patients can be treated in many cases.
“Even though a person with depression may also have cancer, it does not mean their depression is any less treatable.”
– Mental Health America
- It’s estimated that as many as 3 in 10 people receiving cancer treatments in hospitals are affected by a common mental illness.
- Cancer patients are thought to suffer from major depressive disorder at a rate three times higher than the general population.
- As much as 24% of cancer patients also have depression.
- Youth and young adults with cancer are at a greater risk for mental health conditions than adult patients.
Cancer patients suffering from depression or other mental health conditions may benefit from therapy, medications, and other treatments. If you’re struggling with cancer and a mental illness, ask your doctor about treatment options.
To get immediate help, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 to speak with a trained crisis worker. The 988 Lifeline is free, confidential, and available 24/7.
Mental Health Support for Cancer Patients & Families
No matter what kind of mental health issue you or your loved one is experiencing, there is likely help available to you in some form.
Counseling and Therapy
One of the most effective options for treating any type of mental illness is counseling or therapy.
There are several types of therapy that can be used to treat mental health conditions, including talk therapy, family counseling, and group therapy.
Individuals who are struggling with their mental health often feel and behave in ways that are isolated and withdrawn, and it may be difficult to get out and seek help in person. They may be able to access online help in the comfort of their own homes through telehealth services.
Many cancer care centers have on-staff psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers who can provide support and coping techniques that patients and their families can use to improve their overall well-being.
You can also search for cancer therapists in your area who help cancer patients and their families cope with cancer-related anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma.
Tip: Psychology Today offers an online search tool that you can use to look for mental health professionals by city or ZIP code.
Cancer patients and survivors may benefit from taking medications to treat mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Antidepressant and antianxiety medications can help ease emotional symptoms related to a cancer diagnosis.
Researchers are finding that mental health treatment can improve survival rates for cancer patients. Those who got treatment and experienced fewer symptoms of depression had longer survival times on average than those with more symptoms, according to one Mental Health America study.
Support groups give people a chance to share their experiences with others who can understand and relate to them.
Many support groups are available online, allowing people with busy schedules or who would like to remain anonymous to access peer support.
Cancer support groups include:
- CancerCare: This group offers free support groups hosted by oncology social workers to help those impacted by cancer.
- Cancer Support Community: This nonprofit has established a free online cancer community for more than 25,000 members. Cancer patients can set up their own network for family and friends.
- Cancer Survivors Network (CSN): Sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS), CSN is a safe place for cancer patients, survivors, and caretakers to connect for peer support. There are cancer-specific groups and discussion boards for military cancer survivors, gay men, lesbians, young people, and other communities.
If you’re looking for in-person support groups, you can search the internet or ask your oncology social worker for recommendations. Most hospitals and cancer centers also host their own support groups.
General Cancer Patient Mental Health Resources
Many organizations provide general support to anyone living with a mental health condition, including cancer patients, survivors, and their family members.
General mental health resources include:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: This nonprofit association has been helping people living with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders for more than 40 years.
- Mental Health America: This group offers a free mental health screening test, as well as webinars and a wealth of information on all types of mental health disorders and suicide prevention.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Individuals struggling with their mental health can access mental health resources on this group’s website.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): This government organization offers a wide range of mental health information on anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other topics.
The American Cancer Society’s Emotional, Mental Health, and Mood Changes page has information on anxiety, depression, and distress, including tools to manage and measure cancer-related distress.
Other Resources to Help With Cancer and Mental Health
Just as everyone’s cancer journey is unique, so is their approach to mental health. While in-person therapy might appeal to some cancer patients, others may prefer online support groups.
Fortunately, there are many different types of resources available that can boost the mental health of cancer patients and help them deal with the long-term psychological effects of cancer.
In addition to the resources listed above, those impacted by cancer may benefit from apps, podcasts, books, and more.
These mental health resources are easy to access, portable, and can be enjoyed whenever the user has free time.
Some of these resources include:
- Anxiety Slayer: This podcast is a resource for anyone struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and stress. Recent episodes cover calming your mind before a medical procedure and prioritizing your emotional health.
- Calm: You can access several meditation, breathing, and mindfulness tools on this app for free.
- Cancer Out Loud: The CancerCare Podcast: This podcast sponsored by CancerCare features conversations with cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.
- We Can Do Hard Things: Author Glennon Doyle and her wife Abby Wambach talk with their guests about doing difficult things, like caretaking, overcoming addiction, and loving ourselves. A recent episode featured the Poet Andrea Gibson, who is getting treated for ovarian cancer.
You can search the internet for apps, books, podcasts, and other support resources that speak to you. If you’re in a support group, consider asking group members for their personal recommendations.
Cancer and Mental Health Resources by Group
People often feel more comfortable sharing around others that they can relate to, so it’s not uncommon to see mental health resources that cater to specific demographics.
Caregiving is a role that can be both extremely rewarding and challenging. Many people who find themselves in this position may need support of their own to be able to help those in their care.
Caregivers can find mental health resources through Family Caregiver Alliance, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for family caregivers through information and support groups.
The ACS also has caregiver and family resources, including a downloadable Caregiver Resource Guide.
People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community may experience different mental health challenges as they navigate a cancer diagnosis. For example, they may not have family to provide support or may be afraid to come out to their health care provider.
The National LGBT Cancer Network offers various cancer support resources and holds online peer-support groups for LGBTQ+ cancer patients and survivors. National LGBT Cancer Project and OutPatients also run peer support meetings for those in the community to talk about their cancer journeys.
Our Resources for LGBTQ+ Cancer Patients has more support information for those in the community.
Veterans with cancer and their families can find helpful resources through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA Treatment Locator is a directory of VA locations that provide mental health services to veterans.
The VA’s Center for Women Veterans focuses on the needs of female veterans, including health care and mental health.
Children and young people often face unique challenges when battling cancer or after a loved one has been diagnosed. Livestrong has support resources for young adults with cancer.
CancerCare also offers information and support for children affected by cancer. The group’s Kids Talk: Children’s Support Group is an online group where children ages 8-11 can express their feelings after a relative has been diagnosed.
American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) has free medical play kits that can help children feel less scared about their cancer treatments, a digital library, and other resources specifically for kids with cancer and their families.
How to Support a Cancer Patient Emotionally
Friends and relatives of cancer patients may be willing to provide emotional support, but they might not know how to do so.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these 5 tips:
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings with you and other loved ones.
- Help them find financial resources to pay for treatment if money is a concern.
- Keep them active, as physical activity can reduce the risk of depression.
- Persuade them to join a support group.
- See if their doctor will refer them to mental health support services.
Not only does cancer affect a person’s body, but it can cause a flood of emotions like anger, fear, and sadness. Cancer patients can cope with their emotions by expressing their feelings, not blaming themselves, and finding ways to relax and do things they enjoy.