The average age of a mesothelioma patient is 72 when diagnosed. Although depression is not necessarily part of the aging process or with battling cancer, it is not uncommon for mesothelioma patients to struggle with depression. It is also not uncommon for depression to be overlooked or ignored. However, it is vital for caregivers to recognize symptoms of depression and to encourage their loved ones to get help from their doctors.
John is a 74-year-old man who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January of this year. He underwent chemotherapy pre-op, and with his supportive family with him, he underwent a partial pleurectomy in June. He did well physically with just a few complications. When he returned home he seemed to be doing well, but he was depressed.
His wife of 45 years recognized the symptoms and contacted his care team who quickly started him on an antidepressant. Although it can take up to six weeks for the medication to become effective, John responded well and was quickly feeling better and has started to enjoy life again.
What were the symptoms that John’s wife recognized? What are the symptoms of depression? Who suffers from depression? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of depression are:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings;
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism;
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness;
- Irritability, restlessness;
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex;
- Fatigue and decreased energy;
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions;
- Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping;
- Overeating or appetite loss;
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts;
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease, even with treatment.
Depression is likely caused by a combination of personal, environmental, and circumstantial factors. Cancer doesn’t directly cause depression, but one in four patients with cancer are clinically depressed.
The American Cancer Society website has a thorough explanation of cancer and depression. One point that is made is that people who have depression, along with other medical illness, tend to have more severe symptoms of both depression and their medical illness. They have more trouble adapting to their medical condition, and more medical costs than those who do not have co-existing depression.
In John’s situation, he was lucky that his wife was aware of the symptoms of depression and encouraged him to seek treatment. She knew that her husband was suffering. Depression can be treated, it is real. Help is available for both the patient and the caregivers to deal with the impact on the patient and family.
To read more about depression and cancer visit the National Institutes of Health or the American Cancer Society.
Consider reaching out to a mesothelioma support group. They are available through the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.