Charities unite to raise awareness of the potentially devastating impact of the disease on mental health
Charities Breast Cancer Care and Mind unite today following findings that more than 8 in 10 (84%) of women with breast cancer are not being told about the possibility of developing long-term anxiety and depression by healthcare professionals.
The charities are uniting with the aim of making mental health after breast cancer a priority. They are calling for everyone with breast cancer to be told about the potential long-term emotional impact, and ensure all are offered mental health support when they need it.
The landmark survey carried out on behalf of Breast Cancer Care involved nearly 3,000 women with breast cancer in England. Findings revealed that 33% of women experience anxiety for the first time in their lives after diagnosis and treatment. A shocking 45% reported experiencing continuous fear that the cancer may return a fear that, for many, can severely impact daily life.
The survey also found that 8% of women with breast cancer have a panic attack for the first time, as a result of their diagnosis or treatment.
The charities warn that as the routine of hospital appointments suddenly ends, women with breast cancer can often feel alone, without adequate support and unsure where to find the help they need.
Lauren Faye was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2016 and has since struggled with social isolation and anxiety. She says: “My last hospital appointment felt like a huge anti-climax. I’d been so caught up in the whirlwind of treatment, I didn’t anticipate how hard moving forward would be.
“I felt isolated from my friends as I had no energy to go out with them, and I had to watch from the sidelines as they all got on with their careers, relationships and lives.
“But the biggest barrier to adapting to life after breast cancer was my anxiety. I completely stopped trusting my body and lived in fear of there being something wrong with me. To this day, there’s always a worry festering in the back of my mind about the cancer coming back.
“At the end of treatment, the impact of breast cancer on my mental health wasn’t even mentioned by my healthcare team, nor was I referred to support, let alone given any. It wasn’t until I called Breast Cancer Care’s Helpline that my emotions were finally acknowledged and I realised my feelings were normal,” said Lauren.
The survey also revealed that 19% of women with breast cancer experience social isolation after their hospital treatment ends, with 75% more socially isolated than during diagnosis.
More than 1 in 10 women with breast cancer leave the house less after finishing treatment due to both emotional and physical long-term side effects. Of these, 35% say it’s because they feel too anxious, or they do not want to speak to other people (34%). 25% say it is because they are too self-conscious about changes to their appearance.
Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care, Samia Al Qadhi says: “These upsetting figures highlight the stark reality of life after breast cancer and why we are taking a stand with Mind to make support for people’s mental health a priority.
“Damaged body image, anxieties about the cancer returning and debilitating long-term side effects can disrupt identities and shatter confidence, leaving people feeling incredibly lonely, and at odds with friends, family and the outside world.
“We know people expect to feel better when they finish treatment and can be utterly devastated and demoralised to find it the hardest part. And though the NHS is severely overstretched, it’s crucial people have a conversation about their mental health at the end of treatment so they can get the support they need, at the right time.”
Head of Information at Mind, Stephen Buckley says: “Our physical and mental health are closely linked, yet too often, mental and physical health problems are treated separately. It’s really important that anyone receiving treatment for a physical health problem has attention paid to their mental health and overall wellbeing.
“It’s understandable that being diagnosed with or treated for something as serious as breast cancer will impact someone’s mental wellbeing, even if they have never experienced a mental health problem before.
“If nothing else, starting the conversation means that the person is more likely to recognise the impact their condition may have on their wellbeing, and feel able to seek support if they need it.”
Breast Cancer Care and Mind are calling for everyone with breast cancer to be told about the possible long-term impact on their mental health, and to be offered support when they need it. To learn more and to join the conversation, visit the Care After Breast Cancer campaign page.
Many of us are touched by cancer at some time in our lives, whether we have been diagnosed ourselves or know of someone who has been.
Counselling may be offered to the patient during or after their cancer treatment, but it can sometimes be beneficial for family members and loved ones, too. To learn more and to find a counsellor, visit Counselling Directory.