Taking Care of Your Mental Health After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Taking Care of Your Mental Health After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Anyone diagnosed with breast cancer can benefit from mental health support. Finding the care that works best for you is the first step toward improving your mental health.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, people commonly experience many ups and downs before, during, and after treatment. Some people may feel anxious, sad, or stressed but find that these feelings subside as time passes. But sometimes these feelings can linger for months or even years and begin to affect your daily life. It’s important to remember that no feeling is right or wrong — and there is no right or wrong moment to experience them.

Anyone diagnosed with breast cancer can benefit from mental health support. Talking to a mental health professional may help if you are:

  • having a hard time accepting your diagnosis and the changes it brings

  • experiencing physical and emotional side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, and mood swings, which can be caused by breast cancer treatments 

  • feeling overwhelmed about choosing from possible treatment options or where to receive care

  • feeling unsure about how you’re going to keep up with everyday responsibilities and expectations at your job or at home

  • feeling angry about the way the breast cancer diagnosis has changed your life and affected your personal relationships with a partner, children, family members, or friends

  • feeling stressed about finances, including the cost of medical care, having to take unpaid time off from work, or not having enough money to spend on things you enjoy

  • feeling anxious about the cancer returning (recurrence) 

  • feeling afraid of death, particularly if you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer

  • grieving about physical changes to your body, such as losing your hair or breasts, or changes to your sexual health

  • worrying about fertility 

A number of cancer centers consider mental health services to be an essential part of cancer care and have social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists on staff who can offer individual support and counseling. Some cancer centers also offer various patient support groups for those who prefer to talk with others going through similar experiences. There are also cancer centers that offer psycho-oncology services. This specialized field of psychology focuses on the psychological, behavioral, emotional, and social issues that may affect people who have been diagnosed with cancer as well as their loved ones. 

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If you’d like to explore any mental health services and your cancer center doesn’t offer any, your doctor may be able to recommend a few mental health professionals or resources for you.

Everyone’s situation is different. Some people may need a session or two of counseling right after they are diagnosed. Others may need help when their treatment ends because they feel more disconnected from their medical care team. What works for one person may not work for you and you may need some time to find the type of support that works best for you. 

 

How breast cancer can affect mental health

It’s important to know how a breast cancer diagnosis can affect a person’s mental health. Knowing the signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression and other conditions related to mental health can help you get support sooner, if you need help.

Learn more
 

How mental health support can help 

Some experts believe that getting mental health support is a good way of improving breast cancer outcomes. According to a few research studies, people who are less upset or stressed are more likely to adhere to their treatment plans, show up to doctor’s appointments, and follow exercise and nutritional recommendations. 1 2 3 4

Many mental health experts recommend getting help as early as possible, but add that it’s never too late to talk to a counselor, participate in an online support group, or enroll in an art therapy class. If you are newly diagnosed, receiving treatment, or have completed treatment, getting mental health support can help you:

  • reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and chronic stress

  • maintain a more positive outlook by promoting feelings of happiness, contentment, and optimism

  • learn coping skills that you can draw upon if you feel overwhelmed

  • strengthen your relationships with family and friends 

  • improve how well you sleep 

 

Types of mental health support

People diagnosed with breast cancer have various mental health support services to choose from and different ways to access them. There is no right or wrong choice, and you can try several options until you find one (or more) that makes sense for you. 

Learn more
 

How to find mental health support services

There are many resources that can help you connect with a mental health professional.

Learn more

Written by: Carolyn Sayre, freelance writer

 
References
  1. Andersen BL, Yang H-C, Farrar WB, et al. Psychologic intervention improves survival for breast cancer patients: A randomized clinical trial. Cancer. 2008. 113(12); 3450-8. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/cncr.23969 

  2. Giese-Davis J, Collie K, Rancourt KMS, et al. Decrease in Depression Symptoms Is Associated With Longer Survival in Patients With Metastatic Breast Cancer: A Secondary Analysis. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2011. 29(4); 413-20. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1200/jco.2010.28.4455 

  3. Wang X, Wang N, Zhong L, et al. Prognostic value of depression and anxiety on breast cancer recurrence and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 282,203 patients. Molecular Psychiatry. 2020. 25(12); 3186-3197. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-020-00865-6 

  4. Niedzwiedz CL, Knifton L, Robb KA, et al. Depression and anxiety among people living with and beyond cancer: a growing clinical and research priority. BMC Cancer. 2019. 19(1); 943. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12885-019-6181-4

— Last updated on September 22, 2022, 9:04 PM

 

Breastcancer.org's Taking Care of Your Mental Health After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis is sponsored by AstraZeneca.

Reviewed by 1 medical adviser
 
Stephanie Ross, PhD
NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, IL
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