When you’re sad, you may have very little energy, feel tired, or not want to eat. For some, these feelings go away or lessen over time. But for others, these emotions can become stronger. The painful feelings don’t get any better, and they get in the way of daily life. This may be a medical condition called depression. For some, cancer treatment may have added to this problem by changing the way the brain works.

Depression may occur among people with cancer, but it should not be considered “normal.” You can get help to feel better.

Depression and Cancer

Many people with cancer feel sad. They feel a sense of loss of their health, and the life they had before they learned they had the disease. Even when you’re done with treatment, you may still feel sad. This is a normal response to any serious illness. It may take time to work through and accept all the changes that are taking place.

How to Deal with Depression

Depression can be treated. If your doctor thinks that you suffer from depression, he or she may give you medicine to help you feel less tense. Or, he or she may refer you to other experts. Don’t feel that you should have to control these feelings on your own. Getting the help you need is important for your life and your health.

Know the Signs

Below are common signs of depression. If you have any of the following signs for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor about treatment.

  • Feelings of sadness that don’t go away
  • Having a sense of guilt or feeling unworthy
  • A short temper, or feeling moody
  • A hard time thinking or concentrating
  • A long period of crying, or if you cry many times each day
  • No interest in the hobbies and activities you used to enjoy
  • Unintended weight gain or loss not due to illness or treatment
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue that doesn’t go away

Call a doctor right away if you have:

  • Thoughts about hurting or killing yourself
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, as if life has no meaning

Take a Quiz: Are You Depressed?

Do you think you might be depressed? Complete this quiz to find out if you’re showing signs of depression.

Help Yourself

No one has to manage the emotional stress the cancer causes alone. Keep your cancer care team involved in and aware of how you are feeling emotionally. If you think you may be depressed, ask your doctor to refer a psychotherapist or counselor. Make time to get the help and support you need.
Follow these tips to help manage your depression:

  • Continue your treatment until symptoms improve. Tell your doctor if you don’t feel better after 2 or 3 weeks of treatment. He or she could suggest a different treatment.
  • Be physically active. Try to at least go for a walk every day.
  • If you’re having negative thoughts, or thoughts of hopelessness, they are signs of depression and should get better with treatment.
  • Be patient. Remind yourself that with time and treatment, you will start to feel better.

Know When to Call a Doctor

Feeling a wide range of emotions is a normal part of coping with cancer, but some signs should not be ignored. Call a doctor if you have:

  • Thoughts or plans of hurting or killing yourself
  • Problems eating or sleeping
  • Emotions that make it hard to do normal, day-to-day things and go on for many days
  • Confusion
  • Trouble breathing
  • New or unusual symptoms that cause concern

Cope with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is slowing down to pay attention to what’s going on right here, right now. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind. These practices can help reduce stress, anxiety, and feelings of sadness and depression.

Practice Self-Reflection

When you’re feeling anxious or sad, pause for a moment to think about the situation.

  1. Stop and take a deep breath.
  2. Ask yourself, what’s really going on here?
  3. Remind yourself that your thoughts are “just thoughts.” Thoughts come and go. We all have thoughts, but having a thought doesn’t mean that it’s true or that it will last forever.
  4. Take another deep breath and move on with your day.
  5. Do something nice for yourself. Go for a walk, take a bath, paint your nails, call a friend, go to a movie, or play with a child or a pet. Do whatever feels good to you.

Practice Self-Compassion

Accept yourself and others. Do you ever notice that you’re harder on yourself than you are on other people? We give our friends a break all the time, but what about ourselves? What would it be like to give yourself a break? What would it be like to treat yourself like a good friend?

  1. Think about a time when things did not go the way you wanted, or a time when you felt like you said the wrong thing or messed up somehow. How did you feel? What were you telling yourself?
  2. If this same thing happened to your closest friend, what would you say to them?
  3. Even if it feels silly, try saying those things to yourself. Self-compassion means treating yourself like you would treat a good friend.

Learn More About Depression

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including sadness and depression and depression and cancer.