Importance of including Mental Health counselling as a Cancer treatment Protocol

By Dr Anil Heroor, Director-Advanced OncoSurgery Unit, Fortis Hospitals Mumbai, and Dr. Kedar Tilwe, Consultant-Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital Mulund & Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi 

Cancer permeates every aspect of a patient’s life, and different stages bring about various symptoms and side effects that are both physical & emotional. This, in turn, also impacts the psychological well-being of the family/friends close to Cancer patients, including their caregivers. While primary physicians and Oncologists manage the physical aspects of a patient, counselors help them deal with the emotional aspects.

A Cancer diagnosis can be very challenging for a patient and their family, right from the very beginning. Patients will have a plethora of queries about their diagnosis, treatment, follow-ups and survival, changes in their life, life with & after Cancer, relationship with their spouse, children, work relationships, finances, among others.

Mental Health directly impacts physical health, and that is why counselling is an integral part of Cancer care. Any signs of Anxiety and Depression must be identified and discussed with the concerned doctor or counsellor. If their psychological distress is undetected or untreated, there could be significant negative consequences for both the patient and the family. If they are associated with some past psychiatric conditions, they are at a higher risk of suicidal tendencies. In addition, patients may sometimes have to deal with many Anxiety, Depression and adjustment disorders that may result in sleep disturbances, low self-esteem, and body image issues. All this makes it essential to develop psychological resilience in patients as it can improve the long-term prognosis of the disease.

Today, ‘Psycho-Oncology’ is a specialty field within Oncology that supports patients and their families in overcoming the emotional & psychological issues they face during their journey of battling Cancer. This is especially relevant in our country, where there are many stigmas associated with both Cancer and Mental Health. Additionally, these professional counselors are highly experienced, and trained to help Cancer patients & their families deal with all kinds of upheaval that Cancer can cause in their life. They are taught to listen to their patients and respond to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual problems that the patients may face. Research shows that counselling can help patients manage the irrational beliefs and negative thoughts that are an automatic response to the disease.

Besides one-on-one counselling, supportive counselling, C.B.T. and mindfulness-based relaxation techniques are some of the cognitive interventions that can help patients in their journey. The use of supervised psychotropic medicines is possible, if recommended by doctors. Other alternatives that Cancer patients should consider include family counselling, support groups, and art-based therapy that can help build motivation and resilience in the patients.

Another essential thing to keep in mind is that if a Cancer patient does not have any caregiver, they should be given access to counselling and dedicated helpline numbers that they can contact, during difficult moments of their prognosis. In conclusion, utilizing the above techniques and incorporating them into the patient’s lifestyle can improve medical treatment outcomes, quality of life, mental health and reduce fatigue in Cancer patients.

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