Feeling down or depressed

Feeling low or depressed after treatment ends is common. Cancer survivors often experience worry, fear of recurrence, or periods of feeling down, for months or even years after treatment.

Some people feel sad or depressed because of the changes that cancer has caused, or because they are frightened about the future. Many people feel disconnected from their life before cancer. They may wonder if they will be able to work again and whether their family will cope if they can’t earn enough money. Sometimes you may feel down for no particular reason.

Support from family and friends, other cancer survivors, or health professionals may help you cope better during these periods.

     — Emma

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Signs of depression

Depression is more than feeling down for a few days. If you have one or more of the following symptoms for a few weeks or more, you should see your general practitioner (GP):

  • feeling very sad and low most of the time
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities you normally enjoy
  • having negative thoughts about yourself a lot of the time
  • eating more or less than usual
  • unintended weight gain or loss
  • feeling very tired, slowed down or lacking energy most of the time
  • having trouble concentrating
  • loss of interest in sex (low libido)
  • sleep changes or problems, e.g. not being able to fall asleep, waking in the early hours of the morning or sleeping much more than usual
  • feeling restless, agitated, worthless, guilty, anxious or upset
  • having little or reduced motivation
  • being extremely irritable or angry
  • thinking that you are a burden to others
  • wishing you were dead
  • thinking about hurting or killing yourself.

Getting help with depression

Some of these symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions. Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling.

Depression generally won’t go away by itself – specific treatment is needed. Treating depression early may mean that you can deal with the problem quickly and avoid symptoms becoming worse.

There are many effective treatments for depression, which don’t necessarily include medicine. Treatment may include therapy provided by a GP, psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor. Some people are able to get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your GP if you are eligible. Call 13 11 20 to see if your local Cancer Council runs a counselling program.

Some people find online programs helpful in dealing with depression and anxiety, for example moodgym, myCompass or Mental Health Online. You can find a list of health and well-being apps at healthdirect.gov.au/health-and-wellbeing-apps.

Beyondblue has information about coping with depression and anxiety. If you’ d like to talkto someone about how you are feeling, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. In addition to getting professional help, these tips on Managing your mood may help.

  — David

This information was last reviewed in April 2018
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