It’s Ok to Not be Ok – Depression and Lung Cancer
Clinical anxiety/depression is something you carry with you forever -- a daily struggle that is exhausting and can sometimes be paralyzing. I know because when I was 19, I went through a severe clinical depression, which according to my psychiatrist was a result of a precipitation of events that happened in my life. I stayed home from college for a semester, slept with my mom for a month, lost 15 pounds, and stared at the fish tank all day. It was a terrifying state to be trapped in, but the right medication and professional help allowed me to understand that It’s Ok to NOT be Ok.
Depression can happen to anyone
Depression can develop at any point and for various reasons, but it frequently manifests after a life-altering event. It is common, yet commonly undiagnosed, in lung cancer patients. In fact, research has shown that there is an increased incidence of anxiety and depression among lung cancer patients compared to other cancer patients. There are many reasons why it’s higher among people who have lung cancer, including poor prognosis, lack of research funding and empathy, and often times shame or guilt associated with the stigma surrounding lung cancer.
To add insult to injury...there is also a perpetuated stigma around mental illness. Like lung cancer, it is misunderstood. The stigma can keep people from seeking help and creates a barrier to diagnosis and treatment. The reality is that, like lung cancer, depression does not discriminate. Just like lung cancer, depression can happen to anyone.
Recognize the signs
I always tell newly diagnosed patients that no one is exempt from going through the deep, dark tunnel of uncertainty. Experiencing moments of anxiety, sadness, fear, and helplessness is a normal part of the traumatic experience of being diagnosed with lung cancer. But, prolonged feelings that affect your ability to function daily and enjoy time with your friends and family are more serious. It's important to recognize the difference and get help if you need it, whether it's professional help or through our large and caring lung cancer community.
No one should suffer in silence
Receiving a lung cancer diagnosis can be as devastating to our mental health as the cancer is to our body. This is true whether you are currently in treatment or, although it seems counterintuitive when treatment ends. Happiness that treatment is over is often tempered by lingering feelings of fear, loneliness, stress, and a changing sense of identity. And let’s not forget that a cancer diagnosis affects the whole family, not just the person with the disease. Cancer puts a lot of stress on our loved ones, who are also at an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Just like lung cancer, anxiety and depression are not one size fits all. Symptoms can vary from person to person. We talk a lot about how symptoms and treatment for lung cancer can affect our quality of life. What we don’t talk about enough is that depression and anxiety can be a debilitating side effect that has a significant impact on our quality of life! We need to do a better job of having that conversation so no one has to suffer silently through it alone. It's Ok to NOT be Ok!
Read part 2 in It’s Ok to Not be Ok - Being Honest About Depression where Jill tells about the courage of a family friend opening up about their mental health experience and how Jill stays focused on positives.
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