Depression is a common condition in people with lung cancer. It is estimated that one in four persons with lung cancer experiences periods of depression or other psychosocial problems during and after treatment. Other studies have shown rates of up to 43-47% of people with lung cancer experiencing depression.1-3 Since depression is a serious condition that can increase the risk that you will harm yourself, it is important to be aware of its symptoms and to get help as quickly as possible.
The symptoms of depression include4:
Depressed mood (sadness, hopelessness)
Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
Thoughts of death or suicide
Slowed or agitated behavior
Thoughts of worthlessness or guilt
Inability to concentrate or think clearly
If you notice the symptoms of depression in yourself or a friend or family member, alert your doctor and ask for an evaluation.
Major Depression: Symptoms and Diagnosis
Typically involves mood states including grief and sadness
Key element that sets it apart from mood swings is that mood state persists over extended period of time
At least 5 of the 9 symptoms below
Must include depressed mood or decreased interest
Symptoms must have persisted for most of every day for at least 2 weeks
A significantly reduced level of interest or pleasure in most or all activities
Considerable weight loss or gain (5% or more change of weight in a month when not dieting) or change in appetite
Frequent thoughts of death or suicide (with or without a specific plan) or attempt of suicide
Difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia), or sleeping more than usual (hypersomnia)
Behavior that’s agitated or slowed down, which is readily observable by others
Feeling fatigued or very low energy
Having thoughts of worthlessness or extreme guilt
A diminished ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions
Treatment of Depression
The biggest challenge to treating depression is that people are often reluctant to seek help and follow-through with treatment. Some people believe that they need to be strong and stoic about emotional difficulties. Admitting the need for help is difficult and can seem like surrendering. However, real strength is reaching out for help when you need it. By doing this, you’ll be taking charge of your health and welfare.
Mental health experts agree that the best treatment for major depression is a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy or counseling. While each type of treatment can provide some relief for depression, the combination works together and can be highly effective.5
Psychotherapy or counseling for depression can be done individually or in a group by a qualified psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor. It generally takes several months of treatment to get the best results. So, be prepared to stick with it for a sufficient amount of time.
You may also consider joining a support group for people with lung cancer. Getting support from a community of people dealing with similar problems can be a useful and powerful experience. While support groups are a useful addition to formal psychotherapy or counseling, they are not a substitute. Speak to your doctor to get a referral to a qualified mental health professional for psychotherapy or counseling.
Only a qualified healthcare provider can determine which antidepressant medication will be best for you. Additionally, if you are being treated for lung cancer, your doctor will be concerned with the potential for interactions between your cancer treatment and antidepressant treatment.3
A variety of antidepressants are to treat major depression. These include a group of antidepressants called serotonergic antidepressants, such as Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), and Prozac (fluoxetine). An older generation of antidepressants are in a group called tricyclics, and include Elavil (amitriptyline), Pamelor (nortriptyline), and Tofranil (imipramine).Other types of antidepressants may also be useful, including Wellbutrin (bupropion )and Desyrel (trazodone).
Different antidepressants cause slightly different kinds of side effects, and no individual person will react the same to every medication. You will need to work with a doctor to find the right antidepressant for you. It may take up to 6 weeks to find out how well a particular medication will work for you. So, work closely with your doctor and be prepared to give the process time.
Brown CG, Brodsky J, Cataldo JK. Lung cancer stigma, anxiety, depression and quality of life. J Psychosoc Oncol. 2014:32(1):59-73. doi: 10.1080/07347332.2013.855963.
National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed online on 8/16/17 at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/.
Montazeri A, Milroy R, Hole D, McEwen J, Gillis CR. Anxiety and depression in patients with lung cancer before and after diagnosis: findings from a population in Glasgow, Scotland. J Epidemiol Community Health. 1998:52:203-204.
Williams J, Nieuwsma J. Screening for depression. Fletcher RH, Roy-Byrne PP, Sokol HN, eds. UptoDate. Wolters Kluwer Health. Accessed at: www.uptodate.com. 2013.
Katon W, Ciechanowski P. Unipolar major depression in adults: Choosing initial treatment. Uptodate. Roy-Byrne PP, Solomon D, eds. Accessed at: www.uptodate.com. 2014.