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
- Weight loss
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Sleep difficulties
- 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
Symptoms of Depression
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.