A cancer diagnosis, like mesothelioma, causes severe emotional distress producing a range of symptoms and mental health issues. Mesothelioma patients should be aware of the prevalent issue of mental health and cancer and understand what emotional issues may arise after diagnosis and throughout treatment.

Learning you have cancer is a highly emotional and stressful time. People cope with their diagnosis in different ways. While many of these strategies are helpful, sometimes they are not enough.

Receiving a diagnosis and undergoing aggressive forms of treatment can cause a range of mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression. However, there are treatments for all of these mental health problems. Mesothelioma patients should speak to their healthcare team about the different resources available that will help them cope.

Mental Health and Cancer Diagnosis

Changes in a mesothelioma patient’s role at home or work, the fear of the unknown or death and the pain and nausea caused by tumors and treatments will trigger emotions like anxiety or sadness.

Often these emotions are normal, but if they are long-lasting and persistent, they may be signs of anxiety disorders, depression or PTSD.

Anxiety Disorders

It’s normal for patients to be anxious or afraid when they learn they have mesothelioma or at different times throughout their treatment. However, it’s not healthy for patients to be constantly worried or fearful, especially if their anxiety is stopping them from working, performing daily tasks or spending time with others.

If you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, watch for these warning signs of anxiety disorders:

  • Struggling to focus or solve problems
  • Feeling and looking tense (muscle tension)
  • Being restless or irritable
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Having a dry mouth


Around a quarter of cancer patients will experience clinical depression. And while people often interchange the words depressed and sad, these are not the same thing.

Depression affects the way people think, feel and act. It impairs their ability to function day to day. Depression often involves feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness. It makes it hard for cancer patients to find interest or joy in their normal activities—like seeing friends—or necessary activities—like going to the hospital for doctors’ appointments and therapies.

Mesothelioma patients should be screened and monitored for the following symptoms of clinical depression:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless for most of the day
  • Major weight loss or gain
  • Loss of energy and trouble sleeping
  • Struggling to problem solve or focus
  • Feeling angry, agitated and irritable

It’s possible that undergoing treatment may increase your risk of developing these symptoms. However, if several of these symptoms occur daily and persistently for two weeks, then cancer patients should speak with their healthcare provider about getting help for depression.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Frightening or traumatic events cause post-traumatic stress disorder. For cancer patients, these upsetting events could be receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis, dealing with pain or side effects from the tumors or treatments, staying in the hospital for extended periods and receiving discouraging test results.

Warning signs of PTSD after a mesothelioma diagnosis include:

  • Feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness or shame about your condition
  • Flashbacks and nightmares about the time you received your diagnosis or were given discouraging test results
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Loss of interest in a variety of activities
  • Avoiding places, people or events that trigger bad memories

Symptoms usually begin within three months of the traumatic event. However, someone can develop PTSD months or years later.

Coping With Mental Health and Cancer

Having the right tools can make a huge difference when dealing with mental health issues. And research has shown receiving psychotherapeutic interventions can improve an individual’s quality of life and chances of survival.

This is why it’s important for mesothelioma patients to speak with their healthcare providers if they are experiencing the symptoms of anxiety disorders, PTSD or depression. Their doctors can equip them with the knowledge and support they need to better understand their disease and cope with their new way of life.

Mental health interventions can include counseling, peer support groups and medication. While patients are waiting to speak with their doctors about their emotional needs, they can focus on acknowledging their feelings, nurturing themselves and spending time with the people they love.

Seek Support After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

If you are struggling with mental health and cancer following a mesothelioma diagnosis,  seek out support. There is nothing wrong with needing additional emotional support, and having the extra help will help improve your quality of life.

There are many support options available to address issues of mental health and cancer. You could try individual counseling, group counseling or medications. To learn more about these support options, contact a Patient Advocate today at (800) 584-4151.

View Author and Sources

  1. "Anxiety Disorders," CAMH. Retrieved from: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/anxiety-disorders. Accessed May 29, 2019.
  2. "Anxiety, Fear, and Depression," American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/anxiety-fear-depression.html. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  3. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cancer," Cancer.Net. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.net/survivorship/life-after-cancer/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-and-cancer. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  4. "What is Depression?" American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression. Accessed May 29, 2019.

Last modified: June 13, 2019