Cancer can be a devastating, life-changing diagnosis that can cause mental and emotional distress. In fact, about one-third of cancer patients experience mental health disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Let’s look at some connections between cancer and mental health that behavioral health providers should be aware of. This can help prepare behavioral health clinicians to recommend the right resources for clients who have been affected by cancer.
- Mental health conditions can worsen outcomes.
Health experts have long understood that there is a strong connection between physical and mental health. The two sides often feed each other—or detract from each other. That also applies with severe and chronic health issues, such as cancer.
One meta-analysis in 2010 found that a depression diagnosis predicted higher mortality among patients with cancer. This association applied whether the study assessed depression before or after cancer diagnosis. Based on the findings, researchers suggest that cancer treatment locations should routinely screen patients for depression and consider referring them to mental health specialists.
A study of veterans with newly diagnosed non-small cell lung cancer found that those with mental health disorders who participated in treatment programs showed lower cancer-specific mortality. Those mental health disorders ranged from depression to schizophrenia to substance abuse. The treatment programs included employment support and addiction treatment.
- Cancer can lead to intimacy concerns.
Emotional and physical intimacy can be good for mental health, helping to alleviate stress and reduce loneliness. Individuals with close relationships may be better prepare to cope with the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. However, cancer and its treatments can wreak havoc on physical and sexual intimacy.
Cancer patients may feel insecurity and lack of control, which can strain relationships. Some cancer treatments may cause pain, nausea, or lower libido. Surgeries to remove cancerous tumors may cause scarring and other aesthetic concerns, which can affect a patient’s self-image and confidence. Some surgeries, including hysterectomy or bowel resection, can significantly alter sexual functioning.
Behavioral health providers should be prepared to ask about, and address, intimacy concerns among cancer patients. Providers may recommend alternative ways of experiencing intimacy with their partner. They may also recommend physical therapy and other resources to help manage physical needs.
- Be aware of substance misuse risk.
Individuals who experience mental and emotional distress are at an increased risk of misusing harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs. Patients who are struggling with a cancer diagnosis are no exception.
In particular, some cancer patients may be at risk of problems associated with prescription opiates. Cancer may cause chronic and severe pain, either because of the disease itself, a surgery, or another treatment. Opioid painkillers may help with quality of life, but they can also lead to abuse or dependence. Caregivers and behavioral health providers should be aware of this possibility and watch for signs of opioid misuse.
Cancer can be a complex physical diagnosis that can exacerbate or cause mental health symptoms. Behavioral health providers who work with cancer patients should be prepared for a variety of effects that the disease may have on their mental and emotional wellness.
Addressing your client’s physical health concerns, as well as mental health symptoms, can help improve your client’s outcomes, and grow your practice’s value. OutcomeTools from BestNotes can help you track your clients’ outcomes and administer and record questionnaires. To learn more about how our solutions can help improve your efficiency, schedule your free demo today.