Counseling For Severe Depression
Some people think having cancer will automatically lead to severe
depression. This is not true. When a cancer diagnosis is first made,
people often experience temporary feelings of sadness or depression as
they try to adjust to what the illness will mean for them. This is a
normal human reaction to bad news. Sometimes feelings of sadness and
depression will not surface until after the initial treatment course
is completed. These feelings are also common and do not usually
require intensive counseling. Most people begin to feel better if they
share their feelings with family, friends, or a member of the
Chronic, severe depression is a more serious situation and may require
the help of a psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. In
general, people with serious depression feel so preoccupied with their
problems that meeting normal family or work responsibilities seems
overwhelming. Other signs of severe depression include:
- Prolonged feelings of sadness and hopelessness that are not
relieved by talking with others
- Changes in eating habits, causing significant weight loss or gain
- Problems with sleep, such as not being able to get to sleep or
waking up too early
- Changes in sexual desire
Counselors can help by trying to determine, with your help, what led
to your depression. The counselor can also help you find ways of
feeling better. For some patients, anti- depressant medications will
be recommended, which require a physician's prescription. These
medications are usually not used indefinitely but can help people feel
interested in life again and better able to cope with their problems.
HOW COUNSELING SERVICES CAN HELP
- Provide counseling and/or medication to help with severe feelings
of depression, hopelessness, or anxiety.
- Provide psychotherapy to help you understand yourself and to find
better ways of coping with the stress of illness.
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- Your doctor, nurse, or social worker can refer you to an
appropriate mental health professional. Sometimes they may even
suggest this. It is always best to get a referral from someone you
trust. Services are always confidential.
- Most hospitals have psychiatrists or other mental health
professionals on staff who can be consulted by your doctor. Most
psychiatrists, besides being affiliated with a hospital, will also
have a private office where they see people as outpatients, as do
other mental health professionals. Some insurance companies provide
coverage for outpatient psychotherapy. These services are also
available at your community mental-health agency, where fees may be
adjusted to your income.
- Serious depression is often misunderstood by family and friends.
Depressed people are often told things like "Stop feeling sorry for
yourself," or "You'll never beat the cancer if you don't stop feeling
that way." Depression can be brought on by a change in your life
situation, a serious loss, or even by bodily chemical changes. Certain
kinds of cancer or medications may also cause depression. Trying to
overcome severe depression by yourself most often doesn't work.
- Many doctors don't like to prescribe anti-depressants because
these drugs are not especially effective for the sadness or depression
that may follow a cancer diagnosis. However, when a person's
depression is severe, these drugs may be useful. It takes skill to
recognize the difference between expected depression and the more
serious, long-lasting kind. Psychiatrists are trained to know when
anti-depressants will help.
- Occasionally people with cancer may consider suicide. This is very
unusual. However, if a person is depressed enough to seriously think
about suicide, a mental health professional must be consulted. If
family members think a patient is in danger, they should not wait it
out, but instead, tell the health-care team. They will know what to
- Some people think seeing a psychiatrist or other mental health
professional means they are "crazy" or "falling apart." This is not
true. It means you are having temporary problems in coping with your
illness or with other problems and you want to find ways to feel
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute