How Can I Tell If My Depression Or Anxiety Is A Normal Response To Breast Cancer And When Should I See A Psychiatrist?

Question: How can I tell if my depression or anxiety is a normal response to my breast cancer and when should I see a psychiatrist?

Answer: Many women ask me: "Am I going to get depressed during this cancer?" "Am I going to become so anxious that I'm not going to be able to function effectively -- as a friend, as a wife, as a partner, as a mother, as a worker, as a homemaker?" We know very much now what the range of emotional responses are to a breast cancer diagnosis and we know that a small percentage of women will develop a depression or anxiety symptoms that require treatment. Fortunately, today, primary doctors, breast surgeons, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, are very attuned to women's emotional reactions, and in many centers when a woman is starting to exhibit symptoms of anxiety, nervousness, tension that won't go away, insomnia, difficulty sleeping night after night, or a sadness that is pervasive and interferes with effective thinking and functioning and being the kind of person you want to be, those kinds of women are often referred for mental health evaluation.

The good news is we often can prescribe low-dose anti-anxiety medication, sleeping medication, or very effective and easily tolerated antidepressants that can help a woman through these difficult periods. Medications are never used alone without talking and emotional support, and fortunately in most centers right now good talking therapy or emotional support is available for women from a variety of health professionals.

Mary Jane Massie, MD
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