Managing Mental Health and Breast Cancer

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatments can be emotionally traumatizing for some. The National Cancer Institute reports that 25% of patients, about one out of three, with a cancer diagnosis also have a diagnosis of depression. Other reports state that 40% of patients with breast cancer also have anxiety. When it comes to mental health and breast cancer, it is normal to have a wide range of emotions when facing such a challenge. You don’t know what to expect and can become overwhelmed with fear and worry.

Research shows your mental health can impact cancer treatments and survival. In a study on Veterans, those who received mental health treatment during cancer treatments lived longer than those who did not receive mental health care.

At any stage of cancer, whether you are just getting a diagnosis or have already kicked cancer to the curb, engaging in therapy can help. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to manage mental health and breast cancer. The first step is to recognize mental health symptoms.

Distress, Anxiety, or Depression

The most common mental health symptoms among breast cancer patients include distress, anxiety, and depression. Distress is a form of psychological stress that makes you feel like you can’t cope with cancer’s impact on your life. Your thoughts and feelings may range from uncomfortable to unbearable.

Anxiety symptoms associated with breast cancer can include:

  • Worry that seems to be uncontrollable
  • Clenching your jaw
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Tightening muscles
  • Feeling shaky
  • Intrusive thoughts

Depression symptoms that are common among breast cancer patients include:

  • Feeling sad for most of your days
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Fatigue
  • Wanting to stay in bed
  • Wanting to avoid people or responsibilities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and emotional numbness
  • Thoughts of suicide arise

Additional Symptoms

Symptoms will vary based on many unique factors. Some people may experience mild anxiety, where they feel nervous or like they have a knot in their stomach. Others may experience panic attacks. Some people may not have any recognizable mental health symptoms. Or their symptoms may be so unique they don’t associate them with their breast cancer diagnosis. Here are a few more symptoms to look for:

If you notice one or more of these symptoms, you must talk to a mental health professional for an assessment and plan to improve your mental health.

Ask for Help

No one, whether they have breast cancer or not, is expected to control mental health symptoms by themselves. For some, this is impossible. Depending on the factors contributing to a mental health diagnosis, such as genetics and biology, symptoms are out of your control.

What is in your control is accepting treatments that can ease your symptoms so you can focus on beating breast cancer. Because mental health directly affects physical health, working with a mental health professional or team can benefit you at all stages of your mental health and breast cancer journey.

Below are various mental health treatments to try while fighting breast cancer.


Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain most associated with depression and anxiety. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) or antidepressants are typically safe to take while undergoing cancer treatment. However, your doctor must ensure the medicine will not interact with any other medication you take or cause side effects. For example, Sertraline alleviates anxiety and depression and has few drug-to-drug interactions. However, it may cause gastrointestinal issues. Paroxetine, on the other hand, has a high risk of drug-to-drug interactions.

Ketamine has been shown to have multiple uses for people with mental health symptoms and cancer. Ketamine is effective in overcoming thoughts of suicide, boosting mood, and easing chronic pain associated with cancer. One of the most significant benefits of Ketamine for mental health symptoms is that the effects are immediate. Ketamine, when administered by a psychiatrist, is safe and not addictive.

Mental Health and Breast Cancer: Psychotherapy

Studies prove psychotherapy is effective in helping people cope with their emotions and reduce stress when receiving a breast cancer diagnosis and while going through treatments. There are numerous types of group and individual psychotherapies shown to be effective, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Psycho-educational therapy
  • Supportive-expressive therapy

The American Psychological Association reports the mind and psychological well-being play a big role in overcoming breast cancer. They note research has found small support groups led by a psychologist reduce the odds of cancer returning by 45% and chances of dying from breast cancer by 56% in participants. They attribute learning stress management, health-related behaviors, and ways to boost mood aided in their recovery.

Alternative Treatment Recommendations

Traditional counseling and medication are not the only options for managing mental health and breast cancer. Medical and psychology professionals now recommend self-care treatments focusing on the whole self, including the mind, body, and spirit. Healing the whole self can decrease the chances of a mental health relapse.

Self-care is a way of investing in yourself and your future. It consists of specific actions that help you make yourself a priority. They are also proven ways of boosting mental health. Try the following:

  • Meditation or prayer enables you to feel a spiritual connection
  • Massage can ease pain and discomfort caused by chemotherapy and mental health symptoms
  • Sleep hygiene improves the quality of restorative sleep
  • Music therapy can reduce stress
  • Acupuncture can alleviate pain, nausea, and vomiting
  • Aromatherapies can reduce stress and anxiety and boost mood

Getting Started

Sometimes it is the first step that is the hardest. You may not know what services to request or how the process works. That’s okay. When you call, support staff will help you all the way. Whether you have just received a breast cancer diagnosis, are going through treatments, or have survived but are still dealing with mental health symptoms, help is available. Call the Mental health Center today to learn about the many resources available.