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Your Treatment Team: A Focus on Mental Health

by Christina McKelvy, LPC CCMHCCaregiverMay 21, 2024View more posts from Christina McKelvy, LPC CCMHC

Having a psychologist and/or counselor as part of the treatment team is becoming more common, although not as common as necessary. Often, it is seen as an optional add-on, but it should be considered essential.

Doctor’s appointments can clutter one’s schedule, and intrusive thoughts about the future may heighten worry. As a caregiver or someone with cancer, you may always feel on edge.

Questions may arise:

Your mind may race as you move from one task to another. If you are living with cancer or caring for a loved one with cancer, your life is now filled with reminders of this new reality. Managing appointments, adjusting to new schedules, and envisioning a life with cancer may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Taking care of your mental health may not be a top priority, but it should be.

When cancer becomes a part of our lives, various emotions surface—such as grief, depression, anxiety, and worry. It is normal to experience these feelings, but what matters is how we cope with them and learn to regulate our emotional responses, as it can impact the cancer journey.

Advocate for having a mental health professional on your or your loved one’s treatment team. The benefits are numerous, including monitoring symptom changes by psychologists or neuropsychologists that may be linked to treatment or cancer-related symptoms.

Visiting a counselor can help you process the changes in your life and find ways to enhance emotional well-being. Encouraging family members to seek counseling can also allow them to share thoughts and feelings they may struggle to express openly. Counseling is confidential unless there is a risk of harm to oneself or others.

Incorporating a therapist into your treatment team can offer insights into the emotional aspects of care. Research has shown that individuals with untreated depression or anxiety during cancer treatment may have worse outcomes, while those who receive treatment often show improved survival rates. Stress can hinder the healing process.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions that co-occur with cancer, and the following treatments can be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help reframe thoughts and identify unhelpful patterns, reducing anxiety and depression. Mindfulness techniques can help regulate physical responses to anxiety, promoting calmness and focus. Acceptance, which is part of mindfulness, is also crucial, as it can help lower stress responses and empower individuals to take control of their situation.

Counseling for children provides psychosocial support and helps them make sense of changes in their lives. Play therapy is a common intervention, as it allows children to express themselves through play and learn to manage emotions.

Family therapy can also be added to your treatment plan as it can aid in processing change as a unit, helping parents in couples counseling communicate their feelings and fears during a child’s cancer treatment. Addressing family stressors together can strengthen coping skills and promote cohesion. The family can express their fears and concerns, ask questions, or practice coping skills together.

Mental health care is becoming more mainstream, especially on social media, but it is still being overlooked or is the last thing that is thought about when it should be the first thing—the foundation. However, neglecting it can make the cancer journey more challenging. Advocating for mental health inclusion in your treatment team is essential. Seek resources from your provider, health insurance, or online to find mental health professionals experienced in working with cancer patients. Remember the mind and body are interconnected—you cannot neglect one over the other.

Check out Christina’s podcast on Instagram at @hopeologypodcast.

Resources, works cited:

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