Depression and Breast Cancer
This is an important and tricky topic. Most certainly, most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer (or any other kind of cancer) are sad and scared. They may describe themselves as "depressed," but their mood is not consistent with the strict psychiatric definition, nor would it likely be improved by anti-depressant medications. One of the things that makes it difficult to tease out clinical depression from a normal response to this diagnosis is that the symptom list for depression mimics any list of normal reactions to cancer treatment. For example, depression is characterized by a loss of appetite, reduced energy, difficulty sleeping, diminished interest in being with friends or participating in regular activities, and tears or moodiness. Anyone who has gone through cancer treatment is familiar with exactly these same symtoms/side effects.
So, how do you tell the difference? There are three central ways to think about this. First, if these symptoms persist for more than a couple of months after treatment has finished, there may be reason for concern. Next, pay attention to your subjective understanding of yourself. People who are clinically depressed often describe feeling as though they are weighted down; it can feel physically arduous to get out of bed, to push aside the surrounding fog. Finally, if you are worried that you are depressed and wondering if you should see someone about it, do so. Honor your feelings, and make an appointment with a therapist who knows about cancer and its treatment.
Here is a brief article about these issues from the Huffington Post:
Cause for Concern: Shattering the Stigma of Depression and Breast Cancer
The voices of millions will join together this month for breast cancer awareness in walks and runs while pink ribbons are proudly displayed on cars, pins and airplanes. The walls of secrecy and shame that surrounded breast cancer patients and survivors until recently are toppling with increased public understanding and advances in treatments.
Sadly, for too many cancer patients and survivors, the secrecy and shame felt instead is associated with the darkness of clinical depression that they experience during treatment or in the months and years post-treatment.
The fact that clinical depression and cancer can be interconnected is not discussed enough. As a cancer survivor, I had to learn this the hard way, through my own lived experience. Although it wasn't breast cancer, I had to walk through days and months of reflection on the pain and suffering experienced during treatment and seek answers for the questions that bubbled to the surface about the meaning of my existence.
Depression knocked at my door as cancer exited.
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