Exploring the link between breast cancer and depression

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breast_cancerOctober is breast cancer awareness month. Every year, millions of people come together in support of a disease that affects 1 in 8 women. On October 10th, World Mental Health Day, blogger Rebecca Palpant wrote about the connection between breast cancer and an oft-ignored topic; co-morbid clinical depression.

The fact that depression and cancer can be interconnected is not often discussed. Rebecca writes that when cancer patients are given a clean bill of health, the expectation is that “they will jump back into daily life with a renewed appreciation for each day.” But for many survivors this isn’t the case. According to the studies cited by the National Cancer Institute, approximately 15-25 percent of cancer patients will experience co-morbid depression. For individuals with cancer, any acknowledgment of feeling depressed is made in hushed tones (just like breast cancer was a few years ago) and for many people the secrecy and shame they now experience is associated with episodes of depression during and after completing treatment.

Depression can be hard to deal with and deserves just as much awareness as breast cancer.  The stigma surrounding depression can be enough to discourage someone from getting the help they need. Focusing our time and energy in educating the public about depression can help to dispel the stigma surrounding it – just as we’ve seen done with breast cancer. The less stigma that exists around depression, the more people will be willing to seek the needed help.  It is imperative that we take the lessons learned from fighting the stigma of breast cancer and apply them to shatter the stigma surrounding depression.

We echo Rebecca’s hope that “the cancer and mental health communities can join hands and find new ways to address clinical depression in patients and survivors.” Learn the signs and symptoms of depression, and check in with a cancer survivor you know- let them know you care, and that help is available!

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