A couple of new studies, one in England and one in Taiwan, were published this year that look into the connection between receiving a cancer diagnosis and suicide. Both research teams discovered that cancer patients were 20% more likely to commit suicide than the general population, especially within the first 6 months after receiving a diagnosis.

Improving Psychological Care for Cancer Patients

While the percentage of cancer patients who are choosing to end their lives is still low (less than 1% of cancer patients), these studies are an essential reminder to doctors and the rest of a patient’s healthcare team that many patients will need extra help coping with their diagnosis.

One way that the healthcare teams can better provide the required care is by including targeted psychological screening as a standard part of patient treatment plans.

Even though suicide can impact any cancer patient, the researchers also noticed that there was an added risk to patients who were diagnosed with harder to treat cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, oesophageal cancer and mesothelioma.

Why There Is an Increased Risk for Mesothelioma Patients

Being diagnosed with cancer is a shattering moment in someone’s life. Some people are quick to switch into a fighter mindset, but with cancers like mesothelioma where there isn’t a 90% five-year survival rate, that transition can be trickier.

An Australian study that was also conducted this year looked into why this news is so hard to hear. They determined that there were five contributing factors to the increased emotional, physical and psychosocial distress of patients and their families:

  1. Receiving the diagnosis
  2. Not getting accurate information promptly
  3. Not having effective coping skills
  4. A lack of understanding of how physically and emotionally tolling it can be to care for a cancer patient
  5. The lack of one-on-one support for the caregiver

An earlier study explained that one of the reasons receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis is so distressing is because it can feel like it is “all bad news”. Sometimes medical professionals can unintentionally contribute to this perception by the way they choose to discuss a patient’s prognosis and potential outcomes.

Psychological and Emotional Support for Patients

While receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis is hard, these studies all remind healthcare teams that part of caring for patients includes their emotional and psychological wellbeing. Many centers already include some form of mental health care as part of their treatment plans. These programs can take the form of counseling, education, and mesothelioma support groups.

Some cancer centers, like the Van Elslander Cancer Center, also offer massage therapy, yoga instruction, hypnotherapy, or access to their Healing Gardens.

Mental Health Counseling

One common form of treatment for mental health issues is counseling, which can be done one-on-one or with a patient and their families. Counseling gives everyone the opportunity to express their concerns and fears with an unbiased professional. It can also be an excellent place for patients to learn effective coping strategies that will help them both in the beginning when they first receive their diagnosis, but also as they progress throughout their treatment.

Education About Mesothelioma

As the Australian study pointed out, one of the key stressors in a patient’s life is not having accurate information when they need it. The more a patient knows about their condition and potential treatment options, the more they will be able to ask their doctor essential questions and take charge of their treatment.

Mesothelioma Support Groups

When facing uncertainty, one of the most encouraging things is to join together with others who have been there or who are going through the same struggles. Here patients can learn how to deal with changes in their day-to-day lives, what are some ways people have dealt with the treatments side effects, and be encouraged by others who truly know what it’s like.

Being diagnosed with mesothelioma is a challenging and discouraging time, and as the English and Taiwanese studies show, it can easily lead to despair. However, with some education and mesothelioma support, even these dark days can be manageable, and with each new study out there scientists grow closer and closer to a cure.

If you’re facing a mesothelioma diagnosis and require support resources, please contact our Patient Advocates now. Call us at (800) 584-4151 today or receive a FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide to better understand the range of mesothelioma support options available.

View Author and Sources

  1. Broyd, Nicky. Medscape. "Cancer Patients Have 20% Increased Risk of Suicide." Retrieved from: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/898366. Accessed October 7, 2018.
  2. International Journal of Palliative Nursing. "The Lived Experience of Patients with Pleural Mesothelioma." Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5438987_The_lived_experience_of_patients_with_pleural_mesothelioma. Accessed on October 8, 2018.
  3. Mesothelioma Help Now. "Mesothelioma Patients Experience Severe Distress and More Support is Needed." Retrieved from: https://www.mesotheliomahelpnow.com/blog/mesothelioma-patients-experience-severe-distress-and-more-support-is-needed/. Accessed October 7, 2018.
  4. Supportive Care in Cancer. "It Sort of Hit me Like a Baseball Bat Between the Eyes: A Qualitative Study of the Psychosocial Experiences of Mesothelioma Patients and Carers." Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00520-018-4357-0. Accessed on October 8, 2018.
  5. Wang, SM. Et al. Int J Cancer. 2018. “Risk of suicide within 1 year of cancer diagnosis. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29250783. Accessed October 7, 2018.

Last modified: October 18, 2018