Cancer is life changing and a considerable amount of stress not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. According to Healthline, 1 in 4 people with cancer also experience depression, regardless of what stage they are in. It’s important to recognize the signs of depression, to not only deal with it, but understand it as well. Understanding depression for people diagnosed with cancer, whether in curative or palliative treatment, can impact overall quality of life. 


Signs of Depression

The first step in treating depression is to recognize the signs. Everyone is different and depression might not look the same in every patient or as easy to recognize. Depression can be particularly difficult to spot in cancer patients because they are already dealing with a lot of fear, anxiety, and sadness with the diagnosis. There are a variety of related reasons that put cancer patients at risk for depression. Patients may no longer make it to activities or hobbies with treatment getting in the way, they experience pain associated with the cancer, the medication they have to take has a side effect of depression, they may not be getting enough support, or they no longer have hope or plans for their future.


Below is a list of some clinical depression symptoms:


  • Insomnia
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Changes in appetite (weight gain or loss)
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Feeling guilty
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Irritability or very neutral reactions
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Persistent sadness or a feeling of emptiness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Recurrent thoughts of death


Understanding Depression

It’s normal to feel despair as part of the cancer journey, but when it develops into the clinical depression symptoms, it becomes a more serious problem. Most everyone experiences some depression stemmed from grief in their lives, but clinical depression differs from normal sadness or grief because it affects the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. Depression makes it difficult for the person to perform their daily roles. Some people with depression have suicidal thoughts and are at risk of harming themselves. In addition, depression can influence a cancer patient’s will to live and reduce quality of life.


Dealing with Depression

Depression in cancer patients is a common but treatable illness. Treatment of depression in patients with cancer should be based specifically on the patient and their situation. Untreated depression in cancer patients can play into the advancement of cancer. Depression screenings are a simple and easy way for a person to find out if they have depression. Licensed mental health professionals are a good source to help patients understand and deal with their emotions by providing social support, counseling, mediation or medication. A more holistic approach may also help the cancer patient deal with depression, by addressing the whole person — body and mind. A healthy diet, exercise, and meditation are a few holistic approaches to take. Gathering a strong social support system can help with feeling less alone in the cancer journey. There are also support groups and programs in place for people who want to talk and don’t have a group or someone they feel they can do it with. Americare offers a specialized Cancer Warriors Care Program dedicated to supporting cancer patients through their journey.