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Symptoms of depression

Coping with cancer

This page has information about the symptoms you may have if you are depressed. There are sections about

 

Are my symptoms depression?

Some of the classic symptoms of depression, such as weight loss and tiredness, can be caused by your cancer or by cancer treatment. They are not always reliable signs of depression in people with cancer.

If you are unsure what is causing your symptoms it is best to discuss it with your doctor or specialist nurse. They will be able to advise you whether your cancer is causing the symptoms or not.

 

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms of depression can include

  • Feeling sad, anxious or ‘empty’ all of the time
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in doing day to day things
  • Loss of interest in seeing friends and family
  • Difficulty getting to sleep
  • Waking up in the early hours of the morning
  • Not being able to get out of bed in the morning
  • Feeling tired and lacking in energy
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering things
  • Loss of interest in your appearance
  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Wishing that death would come quickly or that life could be over now
  • Having thoughts of killing yourself (suicide)
  • Attempting suicide

You may be clinically depressed if

  • You have 5 or more of these symptoms every day for longer than 2 weeks
  • And the symptoms are causing problems in your day to day life

Clinical depression is treatable so do talk to your doctors and nurses.

 

Suicidal thoughts

The information in this section is not meant to scare you or make you think that everyone with cancer will have suicidal thoughts. They won’t. But it is important that we mention it for those few people who do.

Some people are more likely to think about taking their own life than others. This includes

  • People with very advanced cancer
  • People who are in a lot of pain
  • People whose cancer has made them lose their independence

If your cancer and treatment becomes too much to cope with, you may have thoughts about wanting to die. But you may not actually plan how you would actually take your own life. You may wish that death would come quickly and your life would be over now. Doctors call this having passive suicide thoughts. Although this is very distressing and you need to still seek medical help, it is different to actually planning to kill yourself (suicide).

If you feel that life is not worth living anymore or you can see no way out of your situation you may think about killing yourself. If you feel like this or try to harm yourself in any way then you must try to get medical help immediately. Your outlook on life is likely to be distorted when you are depressed. So you may not be seeing the true picture. Situations can look far more hopeless than they really are. If you get the treatment that you need, things may not look so awful. You may find that you have more resources to cope with your situation.

Sometimes people feel too sad and low to even think about getting help. But people around them may notice that they are acting strangely or hear them talking about ending their life. If you know someone like this then you need to try to encourage them to get help. If you are really worried about someone, consider contacting their GP. The GP can’t give you any information about their patient without the patient's permission. But you can still tell the GP about your worries. It’s important not to ignore someone’s threat or mention of killing themselves.

Do bear in mind that talking about suicide to someone who is thinking about killing themselves will not increase the chance of them carrying it out. In fact, it is more likely to actually help them. It shows them that you are concerned about their feelings. This can give them permission to talk about their fears and worries. For many people this helps to give them back a feeling of control over their life.

If you are thinking about killing yourself because you are in pain or suffering from other symptoms, it is very important to let your doctor or nurse know. They can do a lot to control the symptoms and side effects of cancer, especially when it comes to treating cancer pain.

Once your symptoms are under control, you may feel a lot better and your suicidal thoughts may disappear. The most important thing is to seek professional help and talk to people who will know the best way to help you. There is a list of organisations you can contact for help with depression and suicidal feelings.

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Updated: 9 November 2012