If you’re dealing with cancer, there are many reasons why you might be depressed. But cancer treatments like Chemotherapy It can also be a driving force behind your mood change. And the depression It can limit your health in many ways.
“Depression can hinder compliance with treatment,” he says. Susan Hedlund, LCSW, director of oncology and family services at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland. “Meaning, if you’re really depressed, you might miss scheduled appointments and medications.”
Depression can also affect your relationships with family, friends, and your partner, so treating it is vital to maintaining your quality of life. “We know that if depression persists long enough, it can alter the brain’s neurochemistry, making withdrawal from it more difficult,” Hedlund says.
Read on to find out why your brain responds to chemotherapy in this way and what you can do to control your mood while undergoing treatment.
This is your brain on chemotherapy
Scientists believe that chemotherapy can cause depression in several ways. For example, the authors of a The review was posted on Oncology messages It is suspected that haloperidol, a drug sometimes prescribed to cancer patients to help with nausea associated with chemotherapy, can cause dopamine An imbalance in the brain which can cause depression.
The review authors also believe that some chemotherapy drugs can cause an inflammatory response in the body similar to that caused by stress and anxiety. This response releases certain proteins, called cytokines, that send signals for the body to release hormones associated with depression. These cytokines can also interrupt an important process in the brain called neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis is the brain’s ability to generate new nervous cells. a A study published in 2017 in Translational psychiatry He confirmed that some chemotherapy treatments can hinder neurogenesis. In addition to my authors Review published in 2017 in brain research You believe that dysfunctional or weak connections between neurons can lead to mood and psychiatric disorders.
Cancer-related depression is a growing concern
Whether you’re depressed from chemotherapy or dealing with cancer, it’s no surprise that you may be at risk of suicide. that Analysis published in March 2022 in nature medicine showed that suicide rates were 85 percent higher among people with cancer than the general population — and the worse the prognosis, the more likely they were to contemplate suicide. else The study in nature medicinepublished the same month, showed that nearly 5 percent of cancer patients were diagnosed with depression after being diagnosed with cancer.
According to A study published in 2021 in Cancer ReportsCOVID-19 has also made matters worse for cancer patients, who have experienced rising levels of anxiety and depression during the pandemic. “It’s been a lot harder during COVID,” Hedlund says. “People were very isolated, and that can contribute to not only depression but also loneliness.”
When it’s time to ask for help
While disrupted sleep, loss of appetite, and frequent thoughts of death may be a sign of depression in someone who is otherwise healthy, Hedlund says these indications don’t necessarily apply to someone with cancer. “People with cancer often have sleep and appetite disturbances, and often contemplate death,” she says.
Instead, Hedlund says, seek professional help if you find you’re in a low mood most days or more, and if it persists for more than three weeks. “Then it may be worth trying to get professional help, either through counseling or a combination of counseling and medication.”
According to Hedlund, people with cancer-related depression may also have a hard time keeping themselves happy. “Your loved ones may be really trying, but you may find that you are not affected if you are really depressed.”
Also, people with cancer or depression related to chemotherapy often struggle to feel happier. “Even people who are on chemotherapy can say they love it when their grandchildren come over or they love taking their dog for a walk,” Hedlund says. “If not, it’s a good indication that you may be depressed.”
Managing your mental health
results Clinical trials published in BMC Psychiatry It showed earlier this year that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help relieve depression, anxiety and stress-related psychological symptoms, such as poor sleep, among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The study also shows that CBT can improve a patient’s quality of life and level of self-esteem.
In addition to therapy, there are some things you can do to help manage your mental health. First, Hedlund recommends paying attention to your diet, activity and sleep. “Maintaining a healthy sleep regimen is a good thing. So you try to stay active,” she says. “We used to tell people with chemotherapy-related fatigue to rest, but now we know it’s the opposite of what they really need. Even just walking around the block or going outside can have major mental health benefits.”
Oftentimes, anxiety accompanies depression. “One of the things that happens when we feel anxious is that we worry about the future or ruminate on the past, which can take us out of the present,” Hedlund explains. She recommends relaxation in the form of meditation, yoga, or writing. “During COVID, we’ve seen a 250 percent increase in the number of apps available on your phone for mental health — emptinessAnd the calmAnd the University of California It even has an app. And they are all free.” Just 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the evening can teach vital self-soothing techniques. “The more we do that, the better we get at it. People really describe an increased sense of well-being with these.”
Reducing feelings of isolation can also help stabilize your mood. “We have three writing groups in our program at OHSU, and we’ve learned that if you talk about something difficult, it helps, but if you write,” Hedlund says. And the Talking about it, that kind of shifts so that it doesn’t sound dramatic.” She recommends finding a group, whether it’s for writing, meditation, or just general support.
organizations like Cancer Support Community Providing free consultations to patients suffering from depression and other mental health problems.
“The thing I try to say to my patients is to give yourself a lot of grace. Cancer is really scary. There is a lot of sadness, sadness and fear,” Hedlund says. “Normally, it gets better, but I think people expect themselves to do whatever they have done Before adding cancer and therapy to the mix, I think we should give ourselves a chance to navigate the experience. It will take some time to figure out what will work for you.”