"Am I going crazy?" Cancer patients often ask themselves this question, but according to psychiatrist Michelle B. Riba, M.D., M.S., the answer is usually no. "However there are a lot of reasons to feel overwhelmed and anxious," she explained at a recent Cancer AnswerNight, "The Blues, the Blahs and the Pits: Dealing with the Emotions of Cancer."
"The distress is most difficult right at diagnosis and after treatment is complete, when the person re-enters his or her normal routine," says Riba.
Emotional distress can be caused by any number of factors, including uncertainty about the future, pain, side effects of treatment, feelings of isolation or guilt, information overload, worries about recurrence, physical limitations, as well as financial and family problems. In addition, there may be psychiatric symptoms that pre-date the cancer diagnosis.
Furthermore, patients often don't realize that chemotherapy, surgery and other treatments can directly cause or contribute to their psychological condition.
So is it normal for cancer patients to be depressed and anxious?
Riba says depression and anxiety are very common 50 percent or more of cancer patients have depressed mood or anxiety or both at various times. Symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, inability to carry out one's usual daily routine, intrusive thoughts and fears about their diagnosis and the future. "But it's very important for people to seek professional help if these symptoms last for more than a few weeks," she says.
The PsychOncology Program at the U-M Cancer Center