It is common for people with lung cancer to develop mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. However, there are ways to manage mental health and find resources for support.

A lung cancer diagnosis can cause many emotions. A person may experience fear, grief, and uncertainty about their future and the many choices they need to make.

With time, these strong emotions can develop into mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal thoughts. In fact, depression is an ongoing health concern in people with a lung cancer diagnosis. Survivors and caregivers may develop depression as well.

Read on for information about the connection between a lung cancer diagnosis and mental health. Plus, find out where to get help for a person with a lung cancer diagnosis who may need mental health resources.

Lung cancer, the third most common cancer in the United States, causes considerable physical symptoms. These symptoms, along with the side effects of treatment and the cost of care, can lead to difficulties for people with lung cancer.

As a result of the diagnosis and accompanying mental health concerns, people with lung cancer often develop mental health conditions, including anxiety and major depressive disorder (MDD). People undergoing chemotherapy may also experience these mental health changes.

Research from 2019 makes it clear there is a link between a person’s well-being, the symptoms and side effects they experience, and their quality of life.

In fact, one 2019 study found that about 1 in 8 people with lung cancer have depression. Depression can lead to:

  • decreased quality of life
  • reduced likelihood of following a treatment plan
  • extended hospital stays
  • increased symptoms and suicide risk

Research shows some groups of people with lung cancer are at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions than others. Females with lung cancer are at a greater risk of developing MDD. More than 13% of females with lung cancer develop depression.

People with lung cancer who are younger than 55 are also more likely to develop MDD.

About 13.6% of white people with lung cancer develop MDD. This is higher than the rates of MDD in nonwhite people with lung cancer.

The symptoms of the disease and the side effects of treatment can be difficult to cope with for a person with lung cancer. That is why it is necessary for a person with lung cancer, their caregiver, and their cancer care team to consider the mental health changes the person with cancer may be undergoing.

It is also necessary for caregivers to address their own mental health. In fact, the psychological distress experienced by caregivers can sometimes exceed what the person with lung cancer may be feeling, according to a 2019 research review.

These steps may help improve mental health:

  • Share in the decision making process: Research shows people with lung cancer who take a more active role in treatment report more realistic expectations and increased trust in their care team. This can lead to improved outcomes and following treatment plans more often.
  • Get information: Knowing more about the type of cancer and treatment can help a person feel prepared. It is important, however, to use credible resources and find a balance. Too much time spent researching and getting answers could increase feelings of anxiety and fear.
  • Consider other therapies: Medication, chemotherapy, and radiation have a significant role in lung cancer treatment, but people can consider talking with their cancer care team about the benefits of yoga, meditation, tai chi, and mindfulness. Many of these practices help increase the connection between the mind and body and can boost mental health.
  • Try psychotherapy: A therapist or counselor can help a person with cancer cope with the emotions and frustrations of their experiences.
  • Reach out to support networks: Even with loved ones caring for them, the experience of living with cancer can be isolating. Support groups or peer-to-peer programs can be helpful. Ask a doctor for information about local support groups, or look for one online. The American Lung Association’s Patient & Caregiver Network may be a good place to start.
  • Take care of the body: A consistent routine of sleeping well, exercising, and eating a balanced diet can do more than help the physical body. It can also be a strong ally of overall mental health. An emphasis on physical care may help a person relieve some of the symptoms of lung cancer and the side effects of treatment.

To find the right help for mental health, consider these resources:

  • Patient advocacy and support groups: These local and national organizations, such as GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, have networks of peer-to-peer programs and support groups for people with cancer and their caregivers.
  • Local support groups: Ask a doctor about support groups in the area. Many hospitals sponsor various groups for people with cancer, their caregivers, and even extended family and friends.
  • A therapist or psychologist: Ask friends, family, or a doctor to recommend a therapist, counselor, or psychologist. One can also use online tools like the American Psychological Association’s database.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: People experiencing suicidal thoughts can find immediate help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or 988.

It is important for people experiencing sadness, grief, worry, or fear to discuss these mental health changes with their doctor. These symptoms could be signs of anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition.

A doctor or oncologist may refer the person to a mental health care professional trained in lung cancer care. This could be a psychologist, therapist, or social worker.

It is advisable for mental health professionals to become part of a person’s larger cancer care team. They can relay information about new medications or other treatments the person takes.

Many people prioritize treating physical health during cancer treatment, including symptoms and side effects. It is common for emotions like fear and grief to turn into larger mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

That is why it is important for a person with lung cancer to also take steps to support their mental health. This can improve their quality of life, and research shows it may also help them follow their cancer treatment plans.