Home Mental Health Cancer and Mental Health: What We Aren’t Talking About

Cancer and Mental Health: What We Aren’t Talking About



The word itself elicits fear in all who hear it. What is often forgotten about cancer is its effect on mental health. So much time, money and energy is put into treating the physical battle that the other aspects of the patient’s health–also affected by cancer–are neglected.

A new program at the University of Denver is aiming to help cancer patients with their mental and emotional struggles through the course of their treatment. The Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE) is a first-of-it’s-kind program to offer specialized cancer counseling to students. Dr. Nicole Taylor, the director of the program, says, “A lot of cancer centers are actually struggling to offer enough support to meet the needs, so they’re pretty short staffed in a lot of places, which is where we’re hoping to meet some of that need” (2017).

The psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis and its implications needs to be discussed and addressed. According to The National Cancer Institute, up to 25% of cancer survivors experience symptoms of depression and up to 45% experience anxiety. Some are likely to experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTDS). Even worse, survivors are twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Not only do cancer patients need proper mental and emotional care during the process of fighting their cancer, but they also need an ongoing sustainable support system to count on throughout recovery. Integrative therapies can prove especially beneficial in caring for the whole person by helping patients deal with the side effects of treatment and by improve their overall quality of life.

Integrative care can include therapies such as laughter therapy, pet therapy, music therapy and spiritual counseling. The care is based on the individual and personal needs. Some individuals may prefer one therapy to another. Sometimes multiple therapies are best. By treating the whole person, and not just the disease, quality of life is increased. It has been shown that the mind, body and spirit have a reciprocal relationship, with each one affecting the other. Our mental health is fully capable of affecting our immune system. This is evidenced by the fact that cancer patients and survivors who struggle with depression are 19% more likely to die prematurely than survivors who are not dealing with depression. Anxiety is another common struggle faced by cancer patients. Often fueled by an overactive future-oriented mentality, it leaves the patients worrying about the next result or if their treatment is working. Helping patients to live in the present moment can help address the foundation from which their depression and anxiety stems.

In the time it takes for a person to hear the words “you have cancer”, their entire world is turned upside down. This can cause severe changes to important components of well being, such as productivity, financial stability, family and social relationships, life predictability and consistency and hope/plans for the future. Those three little words have the ability to shatter a person’s life. We can no longer focus on the physical health alone and expect it to work. By being proactive about a patient’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being just as much as their physical well-being, you increase their chances of a better life during both treatment and recovery.


(2017). Maintaining your mental health during cancer treatment. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Retrieved from http://www.cancercenter.com/community/newsletter/article/maintaining-your-mental-health-during-cancer-treatment/

Abrams, A. (February 23, 2017). Neglecting Mental Health in Cancer Treatment. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nurturing-self-compassion/201702/neglecting-mental-health-in-cancer-treatment-0

Stewart, M. (May 18, 2017). New mental health help for cancer patients: Helping cancer patients with emotional health. The Denver Channel. Retrieved from http://www.thedenverchannel.com/lifestyle/health/new-mental-health-help-for-cancer-patients

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