Saturday, February 23, 2019

Cancer and Increased Risk of Suicide

Maybe you’ve had that hypothetical conversation, the one that starts with, “If I ever got diagnosed with…. (fill in the blank) I’d kill myself.” And then someone else says, “No, I could stand that, but if I ever got (fill in blank) I would definitely check out.” 

And on it goes: what we think we could live with, what we think we could not live with: dementia, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, something terribly deforming, or one of 100 kinds of cancer.

Usually when we have those kinds of hypothetical conversations we are in our right minds so we kind of miss the real point: A serious medical diagnosis also has a psychological component or consequence.

In a recent report from the Penn State Cancer Institute, researcher Nicholas Zaorsky (a radiation oncologist) says that a cancer diagnosis can quadruple the risk of suicide among Americans.” 

She says, “there are multiple competing risks for death, and one of them is suicide. Distress and depression can arise from a cancer diagnosis, treatment, financial stress and other causes. Ultimately, distress and depression may lead to suicide. Our goal was to quantify the risk of suicide among cancer patients.” 

What this suggests is that patients, family, caregivers and medical professionals need to
insert care and questions about emotional health in the already crowded conversations and caregiving routines.

With good intentions many of us are tempted to brush past the sadness, distress and grief, “You’ll feel better when chemo/radiation/that side effect is over.” But maybe later is too late.

Nurses and oncologists need to turn around to face the patient and not the laptop, when asking, “How are you?” and maybe pause and ask again, “And how are you really?” And caregivers need to sit with their own anxiety long enough to hear the real distress in the patient’s life and perspective.

Mental and emotional health need attention too.

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