Depression can be hard to spot. In fact, it can look a lot like the sadness, fear and anxiety that you’d expect to accompany a cancer diagnosis. Do you keep cancelling on that friend who wants to meet up, or you find it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning? You may be suffering from something more serious than sadness. It may be cancer-related depression, which affects one in four cancer patients.
“It’s quite common, probably almost universal, for people to feel scared, worried, anxious and sad when diagnosed with cancer,” says Katherine Puckett, PhD, a Clinical Social Worker “But clinical depression is different from sadness, with specific criteria and symptoms, and it may make it harder for people to seek treatment in the first place, or to remain in treatment once it’s begun.” It’s important to spot the signs of depression early so you can keep it from affecting your quality of life, and, possibly, even your treatment outcomes.
Symptoms of clinical depression include:
- A sense of hopelessness
- A lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy
- Insomnia (disrupted sleep) or “hypersomnia” (excessive sleeping) and ongoing fatigue
- Irritability and difficulty with concentration and/or memory
- Significant, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, or changes in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings, or recurrent thoughts of death
The effects of depression can be severe. You may get to the point where you don’t feel like you’re worth treating, or you don’t want to burden your caregivers any longer. Some cancer patients who experience poor quality of life, especially those who are not being treated for their depression, may be at risk for suicide. That’s why the signs are important to spot and address.
If you think you may have symptoms of depression, it’s important to seek out a professional to help you work through your emotions. Start by asking your GP for a referral to a clinical social worker who can help you manage depression and other aspects of your life affected by a cancer.
Cancer patients aren’t the only ones who should be on the lookout for depression. It affects caregivers, too. Many people caring for loved ones fighting cancer say they feel helpless and overwhelmed. They find it hard to see their loved one suffering, or feel they don’t have the medical training required to care for their loved one, or they don’t know how or what to do to help. It can be helpful to talk about your feelings with someone who will listen.
Natasha is a clinical social worker and an accredited mental health social worker. She has 29 years of clinical experience and specialises in working with people diagnosed with cancer and their family and friends. She has worked as the senior social worker at the Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital and Central Coast Cancer Centre as well as the regional Cancer hospital in Northern Ireland.
Whether you are diagnosed with cancer or supporting someone you care about who has a cancer diagnosis and think it would help you to get support, speak to your GP about a Mental Health Care Plan for counselling and support sessions with Natasha.
If you are not sure if this is right for you, contact Natasha who will be happy to talk your situation through with you.
You can contact her on her mobile on 0420542 255, or call our reception on 4323 9100 to book an appointment.