How Lung Cancer Effects Mental Health

When someone receives a lung cancer diagnosis, it may cause complications. These can include mental health effects on the patient, their family members, caregivers, and friends. It’s important to recognize these changes and understand how this can affect the patient and the people around them. Knowing the symptoms and warning signs of someone struggling can help you expedite getting the support and treatment they need to combat these effects.

Distress

This word has many meanings. Distress encompasses unpleasant emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Studies have shown the negative effects of distress in decision making and the person’s ability or willingness to keep up with their health. Patients describe feelings of distress as:

  • Anger
  • Helpless and/or hopeless
  • Loss of control
  • Panicked or anxious
  • Questioning faith, purpose, or meaning in life
  • Sad
  • Scared
  • Secluded

Some distress is to be expected during uncertain and intimidating times. Lung cancer is a stressful disease. If a person begins to feel overwhelmed to the point of concern, they may be having trouble coping. This can cause issues and disruptions in focus, sleep, and eating patterns.

If mental health effects begin interfering with the person’s quality of life, seeking professional help may be a good option. Common mental health conditions in lung cancer patients that evolve from distress consist of anxiety and depression.

This is an image representing anxiety.

Anxiety

Specifically, anxiety involves feelings of worry and fear about potential situations. Lung cancer patients may feel anxious about treatment and recovery, while their family members and caregivers may also be fearful about the present or future of their loved ones. Feelings of worry and fear about doctor visits and tests may also occur.

Anxiety signs and symptoms look like:

  • Anxious facial expressions
  • Dry mouth
  • Issues problem solving and staying focused
  • Muscle tension
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Restlessness or shaking

The symptoms of anxiety are occasionally mistaken as something else. Learn to recognize the signs to move forward with preventative measures.


This is an icon representing depression.

Depression

When a person experiences depression, they may feel intense bouts of sadness and grief that come and go. A depressed person may lack faith and doubt their future goals and plans, have trouble completing day-to-day activities, and begin secluding themselves from other people and situations.

Depression can be mild and is normal among people experiencing a debilitating illness or the ones close to them. When depression continues to be excessive and people begin showing severe symptoms and intense emotions, it could be signs of major or clinical depression. Some symptoms of major depression to look out for include:

  • Continued loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Excessive (and unplanned) weight loss
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Issues sleeping (oversleep or can’t fall or stay asleep) or continued fatigue
  • Mood swings from extreme sadness, to agitation, to high energy and more
  • Ongoing sadness, hopelessness, or feelings of emptiness that occur most of the day, every day
  • Problems staying focused, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Thoughts of suicide or death, or attempts

Certain effects of depression like fatigue, poor appetite, and sleep irregularities can also be side-effects of certain lung cancer treatments. These symptoms may also linger post-treatment. Your cancer care team will be able to better evaluate these symptoms and inform you if depression is a contributing component.

Mental Health Effects on Caregivers and Family Members

Studies have shown that caregivers tend to experience stress, depression, lower life satisfaction, and poorer physical health when compared to non-caregivers. Family members and friends of the patient can also experience this, as these individuals are always around the lung cancer patient, potentially causing distress that can lead to a multitude of mental conditions. This condition is also known as caregiver and compassion fatigue and can also encompass problems focusing, decision making, sleeping, and eating. Burnout may also negatively impact employment, income, and other day-to-day situations if coping mechanisms aren’t developed.

If a caregiver is under too much stress and needs a break, they can seek the help of a hospice team. The hospice workers can provide the caregiver with a temporary leave while they take care of the lung cancer patient.

Caregivers and loved ones must also try to maintain self-care to avoid negative mental health effects associated with lung cancer, some methods involve:

  • Do things you enjoy, take a step back, and try to get your mind off of the negative things routinely. Try to do this multiple times a week, every week.
  • Educating yourself. Learn more about lung cancer and everything related to it. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to help.
  • Remembering to try to eat and sleep routinely. Eat 3 times a day and sleep 8 hours each night (approximately).
  • Seeking professional therapy or help from caregiver support groups. Talking to someone you trust about feelings and frustrations can also help.
  • Setting aside personal time for yourself.
  • Setting realistic goals, knowing your limits, and being receptive to the fact that you may need help with caregiving
  • Utilizing respite care services. There are programs in place to aid caregivers and give them a break.

Caring for someone with lung cancer? Try to maintain proper self-care while developing coping methods for difficult times. This will help fight compassion fatigue so that caregivers and loved ones can avoid burnout as long as possible.

Talk to Someone

You don’t have to go through this alone. If you’re a lung cancer patient, family member, or caregiver of one, it’s important to understand recommended communication methods. Some suggestions include:

  1. Encourage (don’t force) each other to talk and/or find support through friends, support groups, or counseling.
  2. Share feelings you or the anxious person may be experiencing.

The lung cancer care team may also be able to provide medication to help with the mental effects of anxiety or depression. Consider emerging or complementary treatments like yoga, meditation, or massage (among others) that can also help patients and loved ones alike with battling the mental effects of lung cancer.

Your oncologist will have information and recommendations about what options you have available.