Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Cancer and Anti-Depressant Use

This week's discussion was triggered by this article posted by one of our members highlighting that the use of anti-depressants amongst those diagnosed with cancer is double that of the general population (1 in 5 compared to 1 in 10).

Some of us shared that we'd found anti-depressants a great help, others were adamant that we don't wish to use them, although even those who have abstained so far were clear they would consider them. Experiences of taking anti-depressants varied, from providing clarity at one end of the spectrum, to masking reality and numbness at the other. The difficulty of coming off medication due to withdrawal side effects was also highlighted.

What is clear from our members' contributions is the immense psychological challenges that accompany a cancer diagnosis. Many of us have sought help for low mood and anxiety, others have experienced fatigue and long term pain, many had been given anti-depressants - sometimes because they felt that there was little alternative. The end of treatments like chemotherapy/radiotherapy/surgery was identified as a vulnerable time, accompanied by and a sense of feeling lost and being cast adrift. We also wondered about the psychological needs of those living with secondary breast cancer.

Though we would never want to take away any strategies for coping, we think it is important to highlight the contradictions, and controversies in relation to anti-depressants, including the lack of understanding about the mechanisms by which they 'work'.

While we need to cope as effectively as we can, and we need to survive, Naz told us that the longitudinal 'effects' (or lack of) in these drugs are problematic - we expect the brain to take over after a course of antidepressants, but what happens? Many people need to go back on them again. We also don't know how they affect cognitive function.

We all feel that more holistic and longer term support is required to help us with the breadth and depth of the psychological adjustments required and identified the importance of our group as a safe place to share our feelings.


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