Mental health of cancer patients needs nuanced approach, say health experts
Innovation in the field of pharma and biotech industry have been helping cancer patients connect with doctors and support groups.
Between 2001 and 2014, as many as 10,421 cancer patients in India committed suicide, a study published on Indian Journal of Cancer found, pegging the rate of such incidents to an alarming 744 deaths every year.
While awareness on cancer have been gaining pace in the country, discussion on them is often associated with chemotherapy sessions, baldness, or skin darkening. However, the elephant in the room in the form of mental trauma that a patient and their family go through is barely addressed even as more than 4.5 million people in India are living with cancer.
Experts stressed that cancer does not just affect our body but it also takes a toll on the mind as well, and the patient experiences a significant difference in their emotional health. Finding out that one has cancer may trigger depression, anxiety stress and the fear of unknown.
Annually, 780,000 cancer patients in India die without even knowing if they developed health conditions like depression. It has been found that people with depression are more prone to cancer-related outcomes as they are less likely to follow the treatment plans.
Health experts highlight that it is also important to put focus on mental health of cancer patients, too.
While for some knowing about cancer can be traumatic, for others it could be the financial impact or the physical damages like loss of hair and skin darkening that can affect their mental health. Be it the chemo session or the radiation therapy, the process is lengthy and the patient has to maintain the medication even after the cure to prevent a recurrence.
Dr Tejinder Kataria, the chairperson radiation oncology at the cancer centre of Medanta Medicity, said as oncologists or physicians treating cancer patients, the most common thing that they observe is a sense of loss of control among the patients and their decision making when given the news of their illness.
“This is followed by ‘Why me’ and a feeling of denial in a large proportion of patients. Once they understand the situation they experience anxiety, depression, and stress of organizing their family, financial affairs, and uncertainty about their future come up in the mind besides the fear of loss of function/s of their body or loss of life. There are also misconceptions about the treatment side effects from the folklore.”
The process of treatment should start with finding the right doctor who not only helps a patient with the treatment but also guides them through the process. Being mentally prepared and accepting increases the chances of the treatment being a success.
The doctors are often able to connect patients with support groups or counselors. According to reports, the unavailability of peer group support services and psychological counseling sessions has been a problem experienced by 94.4% of the respondents of which, 91.7% mentioned an increase in their anxiety levels.
Psychologist Dr. Akshay Kumar, a consultant mental and behavioral sciences expert at Gurgaon-based Artemis Hospitals, added, “In my practice, I’ve seen people who are undergoing treatment for Cancer also requesting Psychological consultations. It’s also seen that people who have recovered still have the fear of it coming back and that persistent fear might lead to anxiety disorders. In many cases, mental illnesses are silently dealt with without any proper interventions taken for them."
“This happens because of the lack of awareness about mental health issues, the taboos surrounding mental illnesses, and the embarrassment of taking support for psychological distress. But some people seek professional help and are also benefitted from it. People often visit psychiatrists and psychologists to seek mental, emotional, and psychological support,” he further said.
To bridge the communication gap, companies like Innoplexus, an AI and Blockchain-powered data analytics company, that helps pharma and biotech industry to gain real-time access to relevant data from drug discovery to commercialisation, came up with an app called CURIA for cancer patients. The app leads cancer patients to the medical trial facility, right doctors in the vicinity and support group within the app, called Cancer twin, where the patient can find an option to chat with other cancer patients with similar conditions and find support in company of another person in similar situation.
Even as pharma companies and healthcare workers doing their bit, a lot more need to be done. Right from the time the patient is detected with cancer there should be lot of focus given on the patient’s mental wellness.
There is a collective role that friends, families and even corporates can do for the mental wellbeing of the patients. Corporates should have leave benefits and special finds allotted for employees going through such trauma. These small steps can really make a huge impact and as we go along there could be a great ecosystem built around this so that we can build an empathetic economy.