Suicide Risk and Mesothelioma

Throughout the twentieth century, the goal of cancer therapy was to cure the patient at any financial, physical, and mental cost. This approach often subjected patients to rigorous treatments (like chemotherapy), straining patients already at their most vulnerable. A subsequent lack of mental health care and increasing unmanaged distress resulted in climbing suicide rates among cancer patients.

Overall, the risk of suicide is two to four times greater among individuals diagnosed. A study of suicide among cancer patients shows that cancers with poorer prognoses tend to have higher rates of suicide. For instance, lung and pancreatic cancers have some of the highest rates of suicidality. A diagnosis of mesothelioma increases a person’s suicide risk by approximately 450 percent.

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Recognizing the warnings signs of suicide in mesothelioma patients can help prevent these deaths. Patients with good mental health also tend to tolerate treatment better than those suffering from depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders.

Which Patients Are at Risk of Suicide?

A study of more than eight million cancer patients revealed that most suicides occurred among those who were male (83 percent) and white (92 percent). Unmarried patients are also at higher risk compared to married patients.

The study also showed that for patients over 50 years old, suicide was the greatest risk among cancers with poorer prognoses (such as lung, prostate, colon, and rectal cancers). Because mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is usually caught after it has spread, those who are diagnosed are at higher risk for suicide compared to other cancers.

Some risk factors for suicide are cancer-specific, while others are common factors that can significantly increase any person’s risk of suicide.

Cancer-specific suicide risk factors include:

  • Advanced, unresectable cancers
  • Demoralization
  • Diagnosis of certain cancers
  • Feeling a loss of purpose or dignity
  • Feeling like a burden
  • Lack of social support
  • Less than one year since diagnosis
  • Loss of independence
  • Physical debility
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Severe side effects
  • Survivor of adolescent cancer

General risk factors for suicide include:

  • Aggressive tendencies
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Barriers to accessing health care
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Family history of suicide
  • Isolation
  • Loss
  • Psychiatric care history

5 Warning Signs

Family, friends, and an individual’s cancer care team can work together in recognizing the warning signs of suicide. Those closest to the person are the best equipped to spot changes in behavior and help the person get psychiatric help. Use the five warning signs for suicide below and trust your intuition if something seems wrong – even if there are no clear warning signs.

  1. The person talks about how he or she would carry out suicide.
  2. The person starts to give away important, personal items.
  3. The person engages in risky and dangerous behaviors (like reckless driving or refusing to take medicine).
  4. After being depressed or moody, the person suddenly acts calm, content, or happy.
  5. The person withdraws from relationships, talking about guilts, shame, and burdens frequently.

Steps to Prevent Suicide

The first step in preventing a loved one from attempting suicide is being aware of the warning signs. The following steps can offer further assistance in not only saving a life but helping a suffering individual find relief through mental health care.

  • Ask the person about their recent depressed mood and if they’re considering suicide.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you think your loved one is in danger of hurting themselves.
  • Don’t judge the person for mood swings or forgetfulness.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Keep weapons locked or out of reach, when possible.
  • Listen to the person vent and express their feelings.
  • Openly show your love for the person and let them know how much they mean.
  • Seek professional help if your loved one exhibits warning signs of suicide.
  • Share your concerns with the person and your loved ones.

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