Mental Health

Studies have shown that compared to the general population, colorectal cancer survivors experience reduced quality of life, with 37% of CRC survivors reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression.

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Compared to the general population, colorectal cancer survivors experience reduced quality of life, with 37% of CRC survivors reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression.

A cancer diagnosis often focuses on the physical body – how it’s responding to treatment, how it’s recovering, whether or not cancer has metastasized, if will cancer come back, and so on. Although these concentrations on the body are immensely important, so is the state of the mind and mental health.

There’s a need for greater psychosocial support for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. Even when screened for depressive disorders, anxiety, and cancer-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many patients may not be receiving the help they need, especially if they are coping by “putting on a happy face” when in reality, they are also battling a depressive disorder.

You’re not alone

Studies have also found that some cancer patients are more prone to mental health disorders, including:

  • those with a family or personal history of depression or suicide
  • those with a personal history of substance abuse
  • those without a strong social support system
  • those with a more serious prognosis

Changes such as body image, financial hardships, and social dynamics all are contributing factors to depression and anxiety as a result of a cancer diagnosis.

Don’t ignore the signs

Many people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer experience a range of emotions, like sadness and grief, that ebb and flow throughout the cancer continuum. This also goes for family members or friends of someone who is diagnosed. While these are normal reactions to experience upon a cancer diagnosis, depressive disorders can be more serious, requiring special attention.

The American Cancer Society lists the following as signs of depression:

  • Sad or “empty” mood almost every day for most of the day
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Eating problems (loss of appetite or overeating), including weight loss or gain
  • Sleep changes (can’t sleep, early waking, or oversleeping)
  • Tiredness or less energy almost every day
  • Other people notice that you’re restless or “slowed down” almost every day
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or attempts at suicide
  • Wide mood swings from depression to periods of agitation and high energy

Do not ignore signs of depression and anxiety – the first step in treating these conditions is through acknowledgment. Depressive disorders, anxiety, and cancer-related PTSD add excess stress to the body which is trying to heal and fight cancer, and some studies have suggested patients with mental illness may have poorer clinical outcomes.

Take action for your mental health

If you’re feeling symptoms of depression, there are things you can do:

  • Reach out to family members and friends.
  • Ask your health care team about treatments that can help (this may include antidepressants, acupuncture, massage, cannabis, and more).
  • Join a group (in person or virtual) to talk with others going through similar experiences. Check out our Meetups and join Community of Champions.
  • Take time in the day for deep breathing and relaxation.
  • Make plans with a supportive family member or friend to do something you enjoy or to experience a new activity.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco products.

If someone you know is showing signs of depression:

  • Try engaging them in activities, and promote physical activity.
  • Be understanding.
  • Ask how you can help.
  • Don’t force conversations if they’re not ready.

Mental Health Resources

Another perspective to consider is mental health is one piece of an integrative approach to health and well-being. We are not our bodies alone, but are also mental, emotional, and spiritual beings. All parts are interrelated, and, thus, caring for our mental and emotional dimensions is also caring for our physical bodies. This is why survivors with psychosocial support report higher quality of life than those without it.

To get mental health support, explore the following resources: