Depression is possibly one of the most common side effects of cancer or any other life-threatening illness. It occurs when feelings of sadness and despair seem to take over your life.
Throughout the diagnosis and treatment stage of cancer, your friend is likely to experience times of sadness and grief. They will go through feelings of disbelief, denial or even despair. Eventually they will get to a point when they seem to have accepted the diagnosis, and they are able to function once more in their day to day activities. However, if time goes by and she is unable to adjust to the diagnosis, and she loses interest in her usual activities, it is likely that she is depressed.
Early signs of depression include:
- sleep problems--either too much or too little
- little energy, complaining of always being tired
- loss of appetite
- constant anxiety
- a neverending state of worry about the future
- feeling helpless and hopeless--that life no longer has any meaning
- not wanting to spend time with family or friends
- a lack of interest in hobbies or activities they used to enjoy
- long periods of crying, or welling up with tears throughout the day
- thoughts of suicide or often thinking about death and dying
- loss of pleasure in activities they used to enjoy
- feeling worthless
- being overwhelmed by inappropriate guilt
- lack of concentration
In order to help your friend or loved one overcome depression, the first thing is to get medical help. This is one area where the sooner professional input is sought, the quicker the person will respond.
Recognize that depression can be life threatening. Don't waste time making an appointment with a counselor, doctor, or someone qualified to offer assistance. There are many physiological reasons for depression that need to be ruled out before treatment can be effective.
Help your friend to see that this is a normal part of the cancer roller coaster ride. It is also treatable. He or she may feel that there's nothing that can be done about the situation, and the feelings will go on forever. Not so. Encourage your friend to keep on with the treatment and not give up the moment they feel a little better.
If there isn't improvement within a few weeks, get your friend back to the doctor or professional. Doses may need to be adjusted, or perhaps the counselor may suggest another strategy.
Offer to accompany your friend to appointments, to ensure he or she goes.
Together explore the reasons for the depression. Don't argue or make them feel worse by being judgemental. The feelings are normal. Try to understand and empathize.
Pray with your loved one or friend in a positive manner. If you are unable to do this, get someone who can to come and visit.
If your friend is well enough, try taking them out into the sunshine. Initiate physical activity. Suggest a game of golf, or a walk on the beach. Visit a nursery and walk among the flowers.
Ask them how they are feeling, but only if you're prepared to sit down and listen. Your friend needs to know you really care.
Encourage your friend when you see signs of improvement, but don't express disappointment when they are struggling. Don't put pressure on them to participate in activities, or make them feel they've failed you.
Assure them of your prayers, and ask them how they would like you to pray.
Above all, remember--this is not a failing on your friend's part. Like all parts of the cancer roller coaster, he or she will come through this stage and move on to the next section. The best thing you can do to help, is be a real friend.