Mental Health and Mesothelioma
Often, a mesothelioma diagnosis, stemming from prolonged exposure to asbestos and inhalation into the lung(s), comes with many complications (including lung damage or unhealthy weight loss). Aside from the cancer itself, other problems like mental health can make the process even more complicated. Losing one’s sense of independence and experiencing the physical symptoms of cancer can take a toll on a patient’s life. For instance, breathing difficulties due to tumors in the lung or abdominal cavity can prevent individuals from participating in usual activities.
Additionally, patients may feel guilt or anger over the source of their cancer: asbestos exposure and corporate negligence. Reliving memories of asbestos exposure and hazardous lung inhalation, or dwelling on negative emotions can leave individuals feeling depressed or worse. Too, mesothelioma likely involves chemotherapy, which can cause significant mental side effects like depression and anxiety. Other treatments (like surgery) can be painful and may require rehabilitation. The combination of recovery and physical discomfort can wreak havoc on mental health.
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Common Mental Health Conditions
The most common mental health conditions in cancer patients include anxiety, depression, and coping issues. A study by Psycho-Oncology found nearly 25 percent of cancer patients experience symptoms of depression.
Cancer survivors of all types (such as lung, pancreas, and breast cancers) and patients may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the diagnosis or treatment of a fatal disease like mesothelioma. PTSD is a mental disorder that causes people who have experienced a traumatic event to develop severe triggers like flashbacks, anxiety, and depression.
Another side effect of chemotherapy is “chemo brain,” in which the patient can be overwhelmed with fatigue and mental fog. The American Cancer Society found a link between depression and chemo brain.
Signs of Depression
- Restlessness or agitation
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plans or attempts
- Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the time
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Ongoing sad, hopeless, or “empty” mood for most of the day
- Trouble focusing on thoughts, remembering, or making decisions
- Trouble sleeping with early waking, sleeping too much, or not being able to sleep
Serious Mental Health Problems
After a cancer diagnosis, it is typical for patients to experience a range of emotions. However, a patient may need immediate help if they experience any serious mental health problems like these:
- Has emotions that interfere with daily activities and last more than a few days
- Has new or unusual symptoms that cause concern
- Has thoughts or plans of suicide (or of hurting himself or herself)
- Has trouble breathing
- Is confused
- Is sweating more than usual
- Is unable to eat or sleep
- Is unable to find pleasure in things they’ve enjoyed in the past
- Is very restless
- Lacks interest in routine activities for many days
Cancer patients may undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to treat mental health issues. Doctors may also recommend Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to successfully self-direct mindfulness in the form of breathing exercises (which may be especially useful to patients with lung damage), discussion therapy, behavior modification, or medication for depression or anxiety. An assessment can determine which type of therapy may be the most successful, though exposure to multiple therapies may also be beneficial.
Doctors may prescribe medications to keep symptoms under control. Popular antidepressants include Zoloft, Paxil, Wellbutrin, and Prozac. Some medicines may also reduce other side effects of chemotherapy. For instance, asthma medication may be prescribed to patients with reduced lung capacity or ability following lung surgery or chemo.
Mental Health Tips
Physical activity can significantly impact mental health. Exercise produces and releases chemicals called endorphins, which are sent directly to the brain, and may help improve mood and reduce pain. It is essential to exercise regularly during treatment or before surgery so to help maintain a healthy body.
What people eat also affects mental health. Certain food groups are beneficial, while others are detrimental. Mesothelioma treatments also play a role in what foods a patient may consume. Some chemotherapy patients may have problems digesting or swallowing some foods. In general, refined sugar, dairy, and greasy foods may hurt mental health.
Stressing about a cancer diagnosis or staring at a stack of unpaid medical bills can be bad for a patient’s mental health. Mesothelioma patients can receive compensation from the companies responsible for their diagnosis. Corporations that used or produced asbestos can be held legally responsible for damaging an employee’s health. Personal injury lawsuits or trust funds can offset the cost and improve mood.
Seeking help from a legal and certified mental health professional can be a valuable experience for cancer patients. Therapists guide patients through issues like depression or anxiety and offer suggestions on how to deal with resulting emotions. Mental health professionals can suggest medications that may benefit cancer patients while not interfering with treatment.
A social support network can help patients cope with their anxiety or depression. Addressing your mental illness with family, friends, or caregivers may help relieve stress from your diagnosis or treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, patients typically feel less anxious and depressed when they have a strong network of social support.
Caregivers and Family Members
Mesothelioma can also affect the mental health of caregivers and family members. Family members who act as legal caregivers have an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Patient caregivers and families should seek support after the cancer diagnosis of a loved one. Therapy or support groups are available for mesothelioma caregivers.
Coping With Grief
A mesothelioma prognosis is typically poor, which may lead family members to experience grief, and experience anguish or pain. Grief is a normal process that loved ones must endure. Everyone’s experience is different, but there are typically five stages in the grieving process:
- Denial and Isolation
Following the loss of a loved one from cancer, the likeliness of developing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases. Loved ones can seek support from online forums, therapists, support groups, friends or family, and legal health aid organizations.
While most cancer patients and their loved ones experience some mental effects after a cancer diagnosis, everyone has a different experience. To learn more about mesothelioma, download our free mesothelioma guide for information on legal aid, cancer treatment options, and what to do following asbestos exposure. Too, legal counsel may be able to offer a path to financial compensation.