Cancer: Coping with mental health in the midst of pandemic

BATTLING over cancer: This itself can lead to severe consequences on mental health of cancer patients. The current surge of Covid-19 cases is not helping either.

According to a survey, approximately one-third of cancer patients’ mental status are affected during the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, in the US, 60% of cancer survivors reported feeling nervous and anxious, 16% feeling depressed, 14% feeling lonely and 13% feeling hopeless about the future.

Solely in Asia, China has reported that 23.4% of cancer survivors experienced depression, 17.7% anxiety, 9.3% post-traumatic stress disorder and 13.5% hostility during the pandemic.

It is well-documented that the rate of mental health problem is higher among cancer patients compared to the general population, as cancer patients may perceive themselves to have higher risk of contracting this virus due to their immunocompromised state. Thus, they may experience an intensification of psychological distress during this challenging time. 

Receiving social support from family, relatives and friends have been shown to offset or moderate the impact of stress among cancer patients. Therefore, support at home and through digital platforms needs to be strengthened to empower cancer community to adapt to this challenging situation. 

The followings are recommendations for cancer patients including cancer survivors to help reduce the devastating impact on mental health during Covid-19 pandemic.

  1. Limit exposure to things that trigger anxiety. Staying informed is important, but it is also important to set boundaries for how much news you consume about the Covid-19 pandemic. Get health information about Covid-19 from reliable sources.
  2. Talk to others – mental health professionals, family or friends – about your feelings and worrisome thoughts. Keeping those feelings inside can lead to more serious physical and mental health consequences.
  3. Build social support – use social media to maintain a sense of connection even though you are not seeing each other in person. For example, celebrate special occasions, play online cards and board games together and read books to grandkids via videoconferencing.
  4. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, prayer, meditation, yoga or tai chi.
  5. Eat healthfully.
  6. Keep active even at home.
  7. Get a good night’s sleep. Seek help if you are having trouble sleeping.

With the current increase of Covid-19 cases, we hope that cancer patients remain calm, take necessary precautions, maintain good social support with family and friends and frequently converse with their loved ones. The risk is imminent. 

Nevertheless, with good support it is not impossible to overcome these challenges. A peaceful mind will reflect the state of your body, and in turn, improve your immune system to stay strong and healthy.

The article was written by Dr Aishah Jamilah Mohd Salleh, Dr Siti Khadijah Yusof Azuddin, (Doctor of Public Health candidates), Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming and Professor Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi. It was first published on The Malaysian Insight and My SinChew.

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