If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer you may experience a range of emotions including stress, sadness, fear and anger. If you are feeling these emotions intensely and for long stretches of time, you may be experiencing depression.
Depression is common amongst women with breast cancer. In fact, up to 50 per cent of women with early breast cancer experience depression or anxiety within the first year of their diagnosis.
Depression can make it hard to carry out your day-to-day tasks. It can also make you feel like you don’t want to participate in activities that you usually enjoy.
Why am I feeling this way?
When you have breast cancer, there can be many changes to your life that may make you feel stressed or anxious, or may lead to depression. These include:
- coming to terms with the diagnosis
- wondering ‘why me?’
- dealing with uncertainty and imagining the worst
- dealing with tiredness, pain and other side effects of treatment
- dealing with practicalities such as family, work and financial adjustments
- dealing with the responses of your partner, children, family and friends to your diagnosis.
Where can I get help?
Depression is an illness. It is treatable and the earlier you seek help, the quicker your recovery will be. If you are feeling anxious, or think you may have depression, talk to your GP right away.
Some GPs have specialist training and can provide psychological treatment. If not, your GP can refer you to a specialist such as a psychologist, social worker, counsellor or psychiatrist.
Tip: Talk to your doctor about whether you are eligible for treatment under a GP Mental Health Treatment Plan. This will entitle you to up to 10 Medicare-subsidised appointments with a clinical psychologist, appropriately trained GP, social worker or clinical occupational therapist.
How can I help myself?
If you are feeling anxious, stressed or depressed, the following things may help:
- spend time with people who make you feel good
- relax and do things that you enjoy
- learn to say no – you don’t need to take on activities that you don’t feel up to doing
- limit your alcohol intake (alcohol acts as a natural depressant)
- try to exercise regularly –regular exercise, such as walking, has been found to be helpful in preventing and treating mild and moderate depression
- join our online network, or a face-to-face breast cancer support group, where you can talk to other women whose experiences are similar to yours
- talk to your doctor if you are worried about how you are feeling.
Many people who have had breast cancer treatment worry that their cancer may return. This is a normal reaction to breast cancer, and can be a cause of stress and anxiety for some people.
You may find that aches and pains you previously would have thought of as ‘normal’, now make you worry that the cancer is coming back. It can be reassuring to remember that most people who have treatment for breast cancer will never have breast cancer again. Of course, if you have any unusual symptoms that don’t settle after a few days, you may like to have them checked by your doctor for peace of mind.
In the video below, Australian women share their experience following a diagnosis of breast cancer and talk about their fears and anxieties:
For more information about depression, anxiety and stress and how they relate to breast cancer:
- the Living with breast cancer section of the My Journey Kit.
- the Finding support section of the Guide for women with early breast cancer, which is included in the My Journey Kit.
- our online network if you think talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.
- the findings and recommendations from BCNA’s Women’s Survivorship Research Priorities research project 2009.
- the summary and report from BCNA’s National Survivorship Research Think Tank 2009.