Spotlight on Mental Health: Let’s Talk About Cancer Support and Why It’s Critical
In the months ahead, in a new blog series titled “Spotlight on Mental Health,” we will examine critical mental health concerns that affect cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and providers. We will also explore challenges to accessing mental healthcare and share ways we are working to close the gap with innovative programs — offerings that enhance our work to help people receive the cancer support they need to thrive.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat with a counselor from the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
It’s been nearly 3 years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are just beginning to unravel the ways it has impacted people’s mental health. In March, a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization reported a troubling statistic: The pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. But in the United States, even before the pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety had been “inching higher,” reports a White House fact sheet.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States lives with a mental illness. Anxiety disorders are the most common type, affecting 40 million adults. These numbers are concerning, and even more so when factoring in the stress of a cancer diagnosis. It is estimated that depression impacts 15%-25% of cancer patients, and anxiety affects 23% of cancer patients and survivors (Oncology, 2018). In our own research, half of patients and survivors who participated in our cancer experience survey were at risk for clinically significant anxiety, and 4 out of 10 were at risk for clinically significant depression.
At CSC, we have been busy expanding our support programs and services with new, innovative offerings to help address these urgent concerns.
“Support is so vital and one component, out of many, that helps me cope.”
— Nancy, cancer survivor
Recently, we joined forces with Meru Health to bring its app-based mental health program to cancer patients for free through a study. Designed for cancer patients with anxiety or depression, the program helps participants learn behavioral and mindfulness techniques that can be practiced at their own pace. We are piloting the program as a 12-week treatment study, so enrollment is currently limited, but we hope to reach more patients in the future.
Why Getting Support Is Critical
“While it is true that, at various stages of cancer, most patients and caregivers will experience some distress, others will experience more intense feelings of clinical depression, intense anxiety, and panic,” says CSC’s Senior Director of Helpline Navigation, Karen, a licensed social worker with experience in the oncology treatment setting. “If left unattended, this distress can affect the ability to cope,” she adds. “Physical symptoms can seem more severe and, in some cases, distress can affect the treatment outcome.”
Did you know?
Coping with emotions like anxiety, fear, depression, and sadness are consistent top concerns among people who reach out to our Cancer Support Helpline. Cancer patients are under a lot of pressure, and feelings of loneliness, isolation, sadness, fear, and worry are common. Cancer caregivers are also at risk for substantial distress. In our research, one-half of caregivers who responded to our cancer experience survey reported anxiety levels that were substantially worse than the national average.
“The good news is that there are treatments for feeling anxious or depressed,” says Karen. “The first step is to talk about your concerns and ask for help. Your oncology team and the Cancer Support Community are here to help.”