09 October 2019
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is undoubtedly one of the most stressful experiences an individual will endure.
This Mental Health Week, Cancer Council SA Senior Research Fellow at Flinders University, and Senior Clinical Psychologist at Flinders Medical Centre, Dr Lisa Beatty shares a bit about the psychological distress associated with a cancer diagnosis and support available through her program, Finding My Way.
We know that after being diagnosed with cancer over one third of people will have clinically significant distress, which impacts on their ability to enjoy their lives, or stops them from getting out and doing their usual activities, such as work, parenting, or hobbies.
This distress ranges from depression and anxiety to relationship difficulties, social isolation, grief and loss, body image changes and difficulties coping has potential important medical impacts if left untreated. Research has shown that distressed individuals tend to experience more frequent and severe side effects (such as pain, fatigue, and nausea) and are less able to stick to their treatment-plans (including chemotherapy and radiotherapy).
Yet we also know that of those, when offered, less than 30 per cent of distressed people with cancer actually take up the offer of help.
There are a number of reasons why someone would choose to decline support for their mental health. Geography is definitely a huge barrier and some services simply don't have face to face programs. We also know that there is still a big stigma associated with mental health. There are many people out there who just don't feel comfortable going to see someone face to face and have a preference for trying to be able to sort through things out on their own.
There are a number of online programs that have been created to help bridge this gap, and directly meet the needs of individuals who want to work through things in the privacy of their own home, at their own pace, and in their own time.
I’m proud to have co-created a free, online program called Finding My Way, which covers similar topics that are typically covered in face to face sessions, done very much in consultation with people going through cancer.
Some of the topics include; how to communicate with your medical team or make decisions about what treatments you might want to choose; the common physical symptoms you might experience; how to cope with emotional distress; body image and identity changes; and also how to navigate issues that often arise within your circle of family and friends. The program finishes off with covering issues that arise when people transition into survivorship.
On top of providing information, a key part of the program is to provide a range of strategies and activities that target symptoms and help to improve mental health.
The program has been rigorously tested, and has been shown to improve emotional wellbeing and to reduce the need to access other health services while it’s being used.
Through feedback, we’ve found using the online tool was a positive first step for those struggling through their diagnosis.
For some people, it’s a useful first step that makes people more aware of their support needs and feel more comfortable to seek further help when needed. While for others, they got what they needed from the program itself.
If you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health throughout your diagnosis, talk to your treatment team or GP about your mental health options, and/or check out: www.findingmyway.org.au.