Home Mental Health & Well-Being How to Deal with the Mental Health Impact of Bowel Cancer

How to Deal with the Mental Health Impact of Bowel Cancer

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Throughout the UK, nearly 42,000 people receive a bowel cancer diagnosis each year. However, it is not just the physical aspect of this disease that is a cause for concern. The emotional and psychological impact can be just as challenging and often remains overlooked. 

The psychological toll of bowel cancer

A bowel cancer diagnosis can be an earth-shattering event, plunging one into a whirlwind of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Fear of the unknown is typical and a significant cause of distress, as patients grapple with what lies ahead in their treatment journey and beyond. Anxiety can also result from physical changes, body image issues, and the impact on daily life and relationships.

Moreover, the toll of managing treatment side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, and changes to bowel habits, can contribute to stress and anxiety. For some, the physical symptoms of the disease and its treatment can lead to depression, affecting motivation, sleep, appetite, and overall quality of life.

Navigating the emotional roller coaster

Living with bowel cancer often involves a roller coaster of emotions. Initially, there may be shock and denial, followed by fear, anger, or sadness. As treatment progresses, these feelings may fluctuate, leading to emotional exhaustion. It’s important to recognise that these emotions are normal responses to a challenging situation. However, when these feelings become overwhelming, they can manifest as mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

It is essential that patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals do not dismiss these feelings as simply “part of the process”. By acknowledging and addressing these emotional difficulties, we can pave the way for better overall patient outcomes.

The significance of mental health support

Research suggests that integrating psychological support into cancer care can significantly enhance patients’ mental health and quality of life. Psychological interventions, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), can help manage anxiety and depression, improve coping skills, and increase resilience.

Cancer support groups offer a safe space for patients to share their experiences, emotions, and fears. Hearing from others who are facing similar challenges can provide comfort, reduce feelings of isolation, and offer practical advice. Online support networks have proven particularly beneficial during recent times, allowing patients to connect virtually when face-to-face meetings are not possible.

Promoting psychological well-being

Ensuring good mental health is as important as addressing the physical symptoms of bowel cancer. Patients should be encouraged to communicate openly about their feelings with their healthcare team, who can then provide appropriate resources and support.

Practising self-care is crucial. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and relaxation techniques like mindfulness and meditation can all enhance emotional well-being. It’s also beneficial to maintain social connections and continue engaging in enjoyable activities where possible.

Medical professionals can also play an instrumental role in promoting good mental health. They should be proactive in monitoring patients for signs of emotional distress and provide timely referrals to psychological services when needed.

Takeaway

Bowel cancer doesn’t only leave its mark physically; it also profoundly affects one’s mental health. Recognising the psychological impact of the disease is crucial for holistic patient care. With comprehensive support, open dialogue, and the promotion of self-care strategies, we can enable those living with bowel cancer to not only survive, but thrive.


Everett Jones is an American healthcare journalist, passionate about mental health awareness and advocating for holistic patient care. His work has been instrumental in shedding light on lesser-discussed aspects of chronic diseases.

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