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Sadness and Depression

Having cancer can affect how you feel and how you think. Learn about the differences in sadness and depression and find the help you need.

Sadness is normal when going through difficult times such as having cancer and going through treatment. You may feel sad when your family is upset and not know how to comfort them. You may feel sad that you can't work, your role changes or not being able to participate in part of your normal life.

Typical sadness is common during your illness as you experience losses and changes in your life. Sadness and can impact your sleeping and eating and can decrease your ability to concentrate. If you are sad you may temporarily withdrawal from social activities and it may disrupt your usual patterns or routines (time-limited). Sadness can increase your irritability or impatience with others and is usually connected to a particular loss. It may come and go in waves but it doesn't stop your ability to look forward to the future or enjoy parts of your life.

Sadness is brief and time-limited

It is important to remember that sadness is brief and time-limited. Share how you feel with family and friends and medical team who are caring for you. Expressing your emotions is one of the best ways to maintain your emotional health.


"Mom cried a lot when she lost her hair. We expected her to be upset. But then we started to notice she was crying all the time, and she seemed to have no interest in life like she used to." (provided by a family member of a cancer patient)

Symptoms of depression

Depression is different from sadness. It lasts longer and has more symptoms. You can have many disturbing and lasting symptoms. Depression can begin to interfere with your ability to live your life in a way that is healthy, enjoyable and meaningful to you. This is what we mean when we say "quality of life". This is different for everyone. Cancer and its treatment may increase your risk of depression.

For more information, download the "Symptoms of Depression" handout.

When might I need help?

Check out the "Symptoms of Depression" handout; it may help you decide if you are experiencing depression. You may also want to talk to a support person and your family doctor about your symptoms. 

Remember that some symptoms of depression can be connected to the treatment you are undergoing, the treatment side effects or the medications used. They may not always be reliable indicators of depression in people with cancer. For example, decreased energy is a common symptom of treatment and does not necessarily indicate you are experiencing depression. That is why it is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor and health care team. 

Depression is treatable

Knowone has to suffer endlessly. Most people with depression feel a sense of relief when they learn the facts about depression. Depression is not a personal weakness, and most importantly, you learn you are not alone.

Each case of depression is unique, so people may require different methods of treatment. There is a range of treatment options for depression including counselling services and/or psychiatry services, medications, or a combination. Support from family, friends and self-help groups can also make a big difference.

What can friends and family do?

Things to know and do:

  • If someone has depression remember it is an illness and no individual or family member is responsible for the depression. Telling the person to "pull themselves up by their boot straps" or "just think positive" is not useful. Encourage them to talk to a member of their medical team. Check out our helpful handouts for recognizing "symptoms of depression".
  • Listen and offer support rather than trying to contradict or talk someone out of their feelings. It is important that you let the person know that it is all right to talk about their feelings and thoughts. 
  • Ask the person how you can help such as going with them to see their family doctor or a mental health professional.
  • Don't try and support the person on your own, get help from others - the same way you would seek help if someone had a constant or continual pain that isn't improving. Seek out professional support that will give you and the individual information and solutions.
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