If you’ve experienced depression during cancer treatment, you’re not alone. Up to 25 % of cancer patients/survivors experience a major depression, with a much greater percentage experiencing lower levels of depression.
Why Is It So Hard to Talk About? One of the reasons depression is difficult to talk about because of the stigma. We have been trained to think that if someone has depression, there is something wrong with them…that they are weak or too sensitive, or somehow incapable. So no one really talks about it, and then when we do, it’s like we’re admitting to a deep, dark, yucky secret about ourselves.
We Need to Stop the Stigma. If the stigma about depression continues, then we continue to stigmatize ourselves when we experience depression…and that just makes everything worse. Then not only are we depressed, but we also feel somehow “less than” everyone else.
Here’s the Real Deal… If you were to ask around (and I have) you would find out that a significant percentage of people in the general population, even those who have not had a life-threatening illness, have had some level of depression at some time in their lives. I was depressed throughout most of my treatment and beyond. I can’t tell you how many cancer patients/survivors I’ve talked to who admit they have depression and they think they’re the only ones. When they admit it in a group, they find numerous others saying, “Me too!”
I once admitted in a group meeting that I was experiencing depression and about 80% of the people in the room admitted that they had had some form of depression within the last year. What You Can Do Change your mind about depression. If you experience depression, acknowledge that you’re not alone. Decide to believe that there’s nothing wrong with you. Depression doesn’t say anything about you as a person, it doesn’t mean anything in particular about you. It just says you have a problem that needs to be addressed. It doesn’t mean you’re less able, less competent, less smart, less anything than anyone else. There have been plenty of extremely intelligent capable, successful people who have had depression.
If you have not had depression, you’ve likely known someone who has. You can fight the stigma by first changing your own beliefs about depression. When you are going through treatment, it pretty much makes sense that you would be depressed. You are facing your mortality and the possibility of suffering. You are forced to engage in a battle you never wanted to take up. That’s about as depressing as it gets. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that can help you, because there are.
Get support. If support means family and friends, and that kind of support works for you, fine. If more formal support like a support group or peer-to-peer program are helpful to you, great. Many people (like me) found it necessary to get professional support to learn strategies to manage depression and other natural feelings/experiences that go along with cancer. Find something that works for you. But help is available, so please don’t go it alone.
Dawn Pelletier Stratton is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and cancer survivor who provides counseling and coaching services to people who have been affected by cancer throughout Maine (USA). She is passionate about helping people cope with cancer more easily, recover from the emotional impact of cancer, and move forward to create lives they love. She writes two bi-weekly newsletters, Coping With Cancer, for people currently living with cancer, and Love Your Life After Cancer, for post-treatment cancer survivors, and provides other free resources available on her website.