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About depression and cancer

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This page is about having depression when you have cancer. Depression is a medical illness and is different from feeling sad. There is information about


What depression is

Being depressed is much more intense than feeling down or sad, as we all do from time to time. Feeling sad now and then is part of life but depression is a much stronger feeling than sadness.

Depression is harder to bear, and can affect your ability to cope with everyday things such as eating, sleeping, hygiene, social activities and work.

It’s important to remember that being depressed does not mean that you are weak. Depression needs treatment. It is a medical illness, like having a broken leg or a heart condition. Depression that needs treatment is called clinical depression. It is not a condition that you can just shake off.

If you are depressed, it’s impossible to simply get over it. This is very often difficult for people around you to understand. Unless someone has been depressed themselves, it is almost impossible for them to understand how it feels.


Depression in people with cancer

Depression is said to be the least noticed symptom in people with cancer. Yet it can be one of the hardest for you and your family to cope with. We are now better at recognising and treating depression in people with cancer. But we're still not sure exactly how common depression is in people with cancer. There is still a lot more significant research to be done. 

Depression may happen soon after you are diagnosed. But it is also quite normal to become depressed after finishing your treatment. As one person told us

"It wasn't until a long time afterwards that I realised the stress of my cancer had made me depressed and very tearful."

At the time, you put so much effort into getting over the diagnosis and getting through the treatment that you don’t always have time to think it all through. It isn't until everything is over that it hits you. This can be difficult for other people to understand. Just when they think you should be getting back to normal, you may feel more down than ever. It may help to talk to a counsellor or psychologist. We have a list of counselling organisations and information about what counselling is and how it can help you.

It’s completely understandable to have very strong feelings of sadness for some time after your diagnosis or during your treatment. But this is not the same as being depressed.

The important thing to know is that depression can be treated. Without treatment the symptoms of depression may go on for a very long time, sometimes months or years.

But with the right treatment for depression, 8 out of 10 people (80%) will feel better within a few weeks. So if you suspect you could be depressed, it’s best to speak to your doctor so that you can have treatment quickly.

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Updated: 4 July 2014