A cancer diagnosis is a life changing and challenging experience that doesn’t only affect physical health, but also mental and emotional health. It can cause feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt and isolation, as well as impacting self-esteem and someone’s sense of identity. How health care service providers engage with people also has a major impact, with good communication and signposting to support services an important part in promoting wellbeing.
But too often the mental health implications of cancer are over looked, and people are not given the support that they need. One in three people will experience a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression before, during or after cancer treatment.
No one with cancer and experiencing mental health problems should be left to deal with them on their own.
The Mental Health Foundation Scotland has released a new study that found that the post-treatment phase is the most volatile time for mental health. Over half of cancer service users interviewed identified that they reached a ‘false summit’ after treatment as a result of the life changing processes that service users have under gone and due to the often unexpected psychological impacts of cancer and it’s treatment. Unfortunately, with the end of treatment comes the end of a structured, clinically managed support pathway and so people can find themselves without support, and unsure of where to turn to get it, when they need it the most. 66% of service users stated that they had been given no information by medical staff about the potential for mental health problems to develop after treatment, leaving them unprepared and uninformed.
Andrew* spoke to the Mental Health Foundation about his experience of cancer: “After treatment was over, I did, strangely, feel a certain loss when I didn’t have to go to hospitals and doctors so often. Once your cancer treatment finishes everything finishes – you feel lost and abandoned.
The consequences of the treatment were horrific. Many people assume that once the cancer is treated things go back to what they were. But many people live with the consequences of the treatment which are sometimes huge.”
It’s impossible to separate cancer support from mental wellbeing and yet 49% of people said they received no support or advice from health services about managing their mental health through cancer.
Effective support should be built around person-centered approaches, which take into account people’s actual needs because cancer can affect people in so many different ways. Taking steps to develop and co-ordinate mental health support between health services and third sector organisations would allow support pathways to be better structured, and for people to be able to be signposted appropriately according to their individual needs.
Mental health and emotional wellbeing must be given more attention in cancer support services to ensure that the right support is available at the right time for everyone.