WHEN FEELINGS BECOME PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS
An important first step to helping a patient with prostate cancer cope with emotional issues is to help him identify his feelings. He needs to determine whether he is experiencing anxiety, depression, or both. Importantly, anxiety and depression are not the same, and they may require different interventions and/or treatments.
A certain amount of anxiety occurs in daily life for most of us. “Situational anxiety” occurs frequently for cancer patients before undergoing a medical test, such as a scan, or a treatment, such as radiation. This anxiety is different from continual, pervasive anxiety that interferes with daily functioning and manifests as gastrointestinal distress, chest pains, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, or suddenly breaking into a sweat.
Depression is a medical disorder characterized by feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed and may be characterized by hopelessness, despondency, abnormal sleep or eating habits, loss of interest in sex, feelings of worthlessness, the desire to harm oneself, and/or suicidal thoughts.
Men with prostate cancer may already feel as if he is diminished in the eyes of others, and subsequently, may reject the interventions that can help mitigate anxiety and depression. Support groups, individual counseling, or a prescription for antianxiety or antidepressant medications may be highly useful, but men sometimes perceive these as further signs of weakness. Nevertheless, these options should be explained, reassuring them that their innate distaste for these interventions is normal as well. However, clinicians also need to make clear that these interventions are often helpful and may lead to better quality of life and improved medical outcomes.
Andrew Chesler is the Men’s Cancer Program Coordinator at CancerCare.
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