Drawing from records gathered between 1991-2006, researchers have found an increased risk of suicide and cardiovascular death amongst cancer patients. This risk is elevated directly after a cancer diagnosis has been made, but continues throughout the duration of the disease, continuing even after the first year. While the stress of a cancer diagnosis, especially one with a poor prognosis, has long been known to affect the patient’s outlook on life, this study thoroughly enlightens us to the extent at which the psychological state of patients can hinder their chance of recovery.
It is important to distinguish sadness and depression here. While most cancer patients will deal with a general feeling of sadness and despair regarding their diagnosis, only a fraction develop depression. Though counseling is offered to patients, and strongly recommended to alleviate symptoms of psychological distress, it perhaps does not fully address symptoms caused by actual depression disorders. The development of a depressive disorder can often be detected by one’s behavior after several weeks following a cancer diagnosis. These individuals may begin to partake less in their lives. This could include the neglect of one’s role, perhaps that of a parent or spouse, in addition to avoiding daily activities that the patient once enjoyed.
Thus, while common myth portrays depression as a symptom of cancer itself, this has been shown to be a fallacy. Rather than causing depression in otherwise happy individuals, cancer may bring forth a dormant depression in individuals that are predisposed to related psychiatric disorders. So, while a cancer diagnosis is a major stressor to all patients, it can lead it to fatal risks when triggering patients with this predisposition. Because of this, it is imperative that physicians take into account any signs, such as a history of major depression or depressive symptoms, so that they can treat any psychological concerns before they result in extreme, life-threatening measures.
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