In a 2004 Canadian study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, researchers found that almost 38 percent of its 3,095 participants, who included people with breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancer, met the criteria for mental health treatment. But almost half of these patients had not sought psychosocial support, primarily because they weren’t aware of such services or because they didn’t think they needed them.
According to study author Dr. Linda Carlson, a clinical psychiatrist with the University of Calgary/Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Alberta, Canada, not getting help can have major repercussions. "If people don’t feel like they can talk to anyone, their distress just snowballs over time," she says, adding that people with untreated depression and anxiety often end up visiting doctors more often.
That snowball effect may be one of several reasons patients find the post-treatment period stressful. "Some patients find it most difficult when treatments end because they feel they’re not fighting anymore and they don’t have the support of their medical team," Savard says.
Sometimes people with cancer find that the friends and family they thought they could rely on aren’t offering them the support they need. In fact, cancer can sometimes expose existing cracks in relationships, particularly in couples. "Cancer will usually have an impact on relationships. In couples who had difficulties before cancer, it will generally create more problems," Savard explains.