Research Paper on Impacts of Cancer on the Mental Health of School-Going and Cancer Patients

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Sewanee University of the South
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Research paper
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Studies show that there are mental and physical effects encountered by cancer patients upon diagnosis. The mental health of a person is as important as their physical health, and they both affect the quality of life. While physical fitness is easily detectable and treatable, mental health takes longer to discover and treat. Cancer diagnosis and the treatment that follows can have severe consequences on the mental health of patients (Miller et al. 273). Most of these mental conditions are emerge as patients try to adjust and cope with the realization that they have cancer. As cancer is considered an even more deadly disease than HIV, a certain degree of stigma is attached to it which makes managing the mental health of patients very crucial to the treatment and healing process. College students or schoolgoers are a group of people that need to be focused and put in a lot of work so they can excel in their studies. They also need to participate in co-curricular activities like games and acting. When a college student is diagnosed with cancer, they are not only physically strained to take part in activities they once deemed normal, but their mental wellness becomes compromised as well. The research paper seeks to show that the effects of cancer go way beyond the physical by focusing on four articles all about the effects that cancer has on the psychological health of young people.

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How does Cancer Affect Mental Health?

According to Duijts, cancer patients, as well as patients with other chronic and deadly diseases, physical health has a direct implication on their psychological health as well as their quality of life. Unlike physical symptoms that are easily detectable and treatable, psychological symptoms and illnesses are not commonly detected or diagnosed. Surveys carried out in the US have shown that poor psychological health is the number one cause of disability in the country. What is more, is that the condition is more common in patients suffering from chronic diseases (Duijts et al. 484). Research carried out on populations suggests that cancer patients have twice the chance of getting disabilities caused by mental problems compared to non-cancer patients. Additionally, patients with cancer and other chronic diseases are prone to these disabilities.

Mental and Emotional Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Cancer patients are often worried and stressed about the realization that they have been diagnosed with the disease. Also, these patients are forced to cope with the stress brought about by treatments for the illness that happen to be physically brutal and in extreme cases life-threatening. Apart from that, the treatments can cause a patient to be disabled, impair their health permanently, cause them fatigue and even pain. The mental and emotional side effects of cancer treatment are that patients become emotionally distressed and have psychological health issues. Also, these patients find it difficult to carry out daily self-care activities like using the bathroom, making the bed, and getting dressed on their own (Duijts et al. 485). As treatments begin, they can be brutal on the physical health of patients leading to devastating effects. Loss of weight and disability is common among cancer patients. Considering the age of college students, this can take a toll on them as it becomes extremely difficult to do the things that were once normal to them.

Psychological Distress in Cancer Patients

An article whose author is Savard Josee has shown that the brain of most cancer patients functions normally although these patients are known to be almost always psychologically distressed. The degree of psychological distress in cancer patients is dependent upon the cancer type, amount of time that has passed since diagnosis, level of physical impairment, nature of pain experienced, stage of cancer, among others. A study carried out on an estimated 4500 cancer patients of at least 19 years of age indicated that 29-43% of the patients who had 14 of the most prevalent types of cancer had significant psychological distress. Symptoms of psychological distress include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS). Indeed, having to be the one to experience an illness that is life-threatening qualifies the event as PTSD (Savard et al. 1706).

Depression and Quality of Life in Cancer Patients: How Are They Related

Depression affects the quality of life in cancer patients, thoughts of a person, feelings, and actions which can negatively change their daily life experiences and activities. It is characterized by a lack of interest in everything including the things that used to bring joy, loss of hope, and sadness. The result of persistent feelings of sadness and loss changes in how a person behaves as well as how they act. Depression can alter the sleeping patterns of an individual, change their eating habits, lower their energy levels, cause low self-esteem and affect their concentration level. In extreme cases where it is not diagnosed quickly, depression can lead to suicide. For patients who are in school or college, being depressed can make them lose interest in the activities that used to be a part of their lives. These activities are such as sports and other co-curricular activities. Keeping in mind that these activities are crucial for the overall development of a student, depression can lead to underperformance of these students.

Anxiety After Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer patients also experience worry, fear, and other forms of stress that result in distress. Cancer can make one feel guilty, be constantly angry, sad, confused, and feel like they are losing control of their life as well as become paranoid. Feelings of anxiety, mood imbalance, fear that even if the disease is cured, it may recur, low self-esteem caused by changes in the body image, problems communicating, and others are common in individuals with cancer. Also, cancer patients are generally worried and uncertain of the future. They are unable to make plans and feel highly vulnerable to other diseases as well as worrying about the changes the disease causes to their sexual and reproductive functions not to mention the effect on their relationships with other people like family and friends (Savard et al. 1707). Young people like to plan ahead, think about the future, make bucket lists. Considering the realization that comes with knowing that one could lose their life to cancer, patients are unable to think ahead, and so when they get to hang out with their friends who are still full of life, they feel out of sync. Unlike healthy people, they are not sure that even if they make plans, they will live long enough to see them through. So they opt to be solitary as they feel they no longer belong with their peers. Solitude results in despair, negative thoughts and can even lead to suicide.

Psychosocial Needs of Cancer Patients

According to Jim, et al., mental healthcare givers in the oncology wing come across a wide variety of psychosocial needs of cancer patients. From the many types of the disease at different stages of progression to the various side effects of the medication and different prognoses, treatment of cancer is not an easy process and can be overwhelming to patients. It is common for cancer patients to lose their sense of independence so that they are not able to carry out specific tasks on their own. In others, their energy levels decrease making them unable to enjoy the activities that once brought them joy. After diagnosis, cancer patients often go through a process that is similar to grieving (Jim, et al. 3762). There is evidence of PTSD in cancer patients which is a result of the trauma these patients go through with the realization that they have one of the most dreaded diseases and for fear of death. Depression and anxiety that are common in cancer patients are also a result of treatments.

Side Effects of Cancer Chemotherapy

Chemo brain is a side effect of cancer chemotherapy that makes a patient fatigued, depressed, experience mental fog as well as other kinds of cognitive impairment especially for patients with leukemia and brain tumors. These disabilities affect the level of concentration, memory, and information processing speed consequently leading to difficulties in reading, language development, and the inability to perform complicated homework (Jim, et al. 3763). All of these side effects of cancer chemotherapy affect the school performance of the patients. They separate themselves because of fear of discrimination or ridicule. Isolation affects the development of society and people interaction skills which are crucial in a school environment.

Link Between PTSD and Cancer Diagnosis

PTSD is a mental disorder that arises from a person experiencing a scary or shocking event. The disorder causes fear and anxiety. Being diagnosed with cancer can be very devastating for school-going children and college students. They become anxious about the treatment and the recurrence of the disease. The disorder causes changes in the body as a coping mechanism with the desire of helping the body defend itself or avoiding such scary and shocking events. Also, it causes anxiety flashbacks which can result in trouble having sleep and nightmares (Jim et al. 3764). For these young patients, this disorder significantly affects their school lifestyles and performance and how they relate to close family members.

Importance of Monitoring the Mental Health of Cancer Patients

According to the study conducted by Papamichael, the mental health of people with cancer is as important as their physical health. Diagnosis of cancer and its treatment is usually followed by all kinds of stressors be they physical, emotional, social, financial, or otherwise. It is critical to monitor the mental health of cancer patients during the first 1-3 years after diagnosis (Papamichael et al. 470). During this period, cancer patients tend to feel like they lack support from the people they are close to and this among many other factors causes the patients to be psychologically distressed.

Cancer and How It Affects Individuals at Different Ages

There are different stressors for various cancer patients diagnosed at different ages. Compared to cancer diagnoses at advanced ages, diagnoses at young ages or in adults in their middle ages cause more stressors and challenges. Considering all types of cancer, young patients are more prone to psychological disabilities caused by the disease compared to patients of the older generation. It is less common for individuals who are less than 50 years old to get cancer compared to the ones older than that. A study done on young women with breast cancer indicated that these patients became sexually dysfunctional, had vaginal dryness, experienced problems sleeping had feelings of fatigue, and experienced pain (Papamichael et al. 472). In addition, they also experienced different forms of psychosocial distress and even more compared to older women with the disease. Also, these women reported that they were no longer in sync with their friends and age mates after their diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Cancer affects the psychosocial health of patients and reduces social status considering the fear and attitudes society has towards the disease. The mental distress comes as a result of coping with the diagnosis, challenges encountered with treatment and the persistent fear of recurrence, and the emotions brought about by the cancer experience. For school-going and cancer patients, such distress can lead to feelings of helplessness and shock which have an impact on their school performance and daily life activities.


In conclusion, cancer diagnosis as well as treatment is a difficult truth to deal with and brings about a variety of physical, social, and mental effects as well as stressors. The implication of these stressors is that they cause cancer patients to experience distress. Distress is a general term for feelings of depression, sadness, worry, panic, fear, sadness, or anxiety. Physical health is directly related to mental health. Treatment for mental health conditions as a result of cancer is presently available although there is plenty of room for making it better and more effective. For example, cognitive impairment can be addressed through psychotherapy and life coping skills in...

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