When a person hears they’ve just been diagnosed with any kind of cancer, the last thing running through their mind is taking care of their emotional health. But your emotional and mental well-being is probably just as important a component of any other part of your treatment, it needs your attention.
Yet another study has been published showing that your emotional and mental health are incontrovertibly tied to your physical health. And in the latest research, maintaining your mental health has been shown to be tied to more positive quality of life and less depressive symptoms.
The researchers also theorize that such improvements may also help a person combat cancer itself.
The study divided 240 women with a recent breast cancer diagnosis into two groups. The first group — the control group — received the usual medical educational material about their new diagnosis. The second group engaged in 10 weeks of relaxation and coping skills training.
Not only did the second group report increased quality of life and less depressive symptoms than the control group, but those positive outcomes lasted long beyond the initial diagnosis period. More than 15 years later, the group that received the relaxation and coping skills training still had a significantly better quality of life and less depression.
In fact, they reported levels of depression and stress similar to women who never were diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s how powerful psychology techniques like these are for the quality of our lives — they can completely mitigate the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis.
Better yet, this intervention wasn’t just tested on a select group of Caucasian women. It was tested on a racially- and culturally-diverse group of women from all walks of life, and all socioeconomic backgrounds. And the intervention worked for all of them.
The researchers believe that it may be possible to help “inoculate” women from the negative impact of cancer on our psychological well-being. This in turn may actually help with the cancer treatment too, say the researchers. Why? “Because depressive symptoms have been associated with neuroendocrine and inflammatory processes that may influence cancer progression.”
Every Cancer Treatment Team Needs a Psychologist
Every cancer treatment team in the U.S. needs a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional on it to address each patient’s emotional and mental health needs. It’s not simply that a positive outlook will correlate with a positive outcome in a patient’s treatment.
It’s that by teaching these valuable stress-relief tools, patients are empowered partners in their care and maintain their mental health while battling cancer.
Depression is one of the biggest allies cancer has. Defeat depressive symptoms and you’ll have a better chance of defeating cancer.
If your treatment team hasn’t offered to address your mental well-being in your cancer treatment, ask for a referral to a psychologist or mental health professional who specializes in this area.
If you can’t access such care, you can actually learn a lot of these techniques yourself through both websites (like ours) and self-help books. But a professional will hold your feet to the fire and ensure you practice what you’re learning on a weekly basis.
Jamie M. Stagl, Laura C. Bouchard, Suzanne C. Lechner, Bonnie B. Blomberg, Lisa M. Gudenkauf, Devika R. Jutagir, Stefan Glu¨ck, Robert P. Derhagopian, Charles S. Carver, and Michael H. Antoni. (2015). Long term psychological benefits of cognitive-behavioral stress management for women with breast cancer: 11-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. CANCER. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.29076