This National Mental Health Awareness Week we decided to sit down with our very own Dr Caroline Hoffman, Clinical and Research Director here at Breast Cancer Haven to discuss the impact that breast cancer can have on a person’s mental health. 

In what way does breast cancer affect people mentally and why are mental health issues so common amongst people affected by breast cancer?

"When people talk about breast cancer, they often discuss the physical symptoms and side effects as opposed to the impact on a person's mental wellbeing. However, a diagnosis of breast cancer is always a shock to anybody. There can be psychological as well as physical challenges from the diagnosis, treatment and from living with breast cancer. Whilst we can’t be sure about exactly how much breast cancer impacts people’s mental health, we found that 78 percent of our visitors at Breast Cancer Haven need help with emotional issues. 

Around 25 percent of the general population have a mental health condition, so it is inevitable that many of the people we see at Breast Cancer Haven will struggle with both mental and physical health problems at the same time. Of this 25 percent, one in 10 people will need help from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

There are also people who may have pre-existing mental health problems with anxiety or depression which are exacerbated by the experience of breast cancer. 

Mental health issues are common during breast cancer and are something that needs to be talked about more."

What are some of the ways that mental health can affect somebody with breast cancer? 

"The mental and emotional response to a major life event like breast cancer varies from person to person. Anxiety, depression, loss of confidence, worry and fear are some of the common mental health issues that people experience, but many also live with the fear of a recurrence of breast cancer, metastatic disease or death from breast cancer. Living with uncertainty and feeling low during and after breast cancer are very common."

In what ways does Breast Cancer Haven’s support alleviate stress and mental health issues?

"At Breast Cancer Haven, we are fully aware that a diagnosis of breast cancer can cause someone to develop mental health issues or exacerbate existing mental health issues. This is why we are here to support them in order to help them regain their confidence and strength when breast cancer has taken that away from them. 

Our support is free and available to anybody affected by breast cancer. If you’re affected by breast cancer, you just need to get in touch with your local Breast Cancer Haven centre or visit our website to book your first appointment with us."

What Breast Cancer Haven therapies are particularly helpful for alleviating stress and helping with mental health issues?

Counselling

"Counselling involves talking through the mental and emotional issues you are having with a Breast Cancer Haven counsellor. It gives you an opportunity to receive emotional support and learn practical ways to deal with the effects of living with breast cancer. 

The counsellor will often give you practical exercises based on what you discuss in your session to alleviate your issues and reduce mental distress."

Mindfulness

"By taking some time bring our attention more fully to the present moment, mindfulness allows us to use the awareness of sensations of the body and the breath to meet our difficulties with attention and kindness to ourselves. We learn to respond to our stress and worry much more effectively, rather than from our habitual patterns of reactivity. It can also promote greater wellbeing in the midst of whatever we may be experiencing."

Hypnotherapy

"Allowing ourselves to relax deeply can help us to get in touch with some of the emotional issues that we may be struggling with. By facing these issues, we can overcome our fears."

Acupuncture, shiatsu, reflexology, cranio-sacral therapy, aromatherapy massage

"These therapies enhance relaxation and enable the balancing of the nervous system which in turn can help us feel at ease. Feeling less stressed and less anxious can enhance emotional balance."

Physical exercise such as yoga and qi gong

"These practices enable both mind and body to connect through gentle movements. Done on a regular basis, they enhance physical, mental and emotional wellbeing by releasing tension, giving the mind focus on breathing and movement, as well as supporting physical strength, flexibility and stamina."

What ways can this stress be alleviated at home? 

"Lessons and principles from all of our classes can be practiced outside of Breast Cancer Haven. We also have a  range of short videos available on our website so that everyone can access our support from home. We also run longer programmes of Mindfulness-Based Stress ReductionMindful Self-Compassion, Living Well Moving On to aid people wherever they find themselves when needing support."

"At Breast Cancer Haven, we aim to support anybody at any stage of their experience of breast cancer. Our team of professionals are fully aware of the mental health implications that breast cancer can bring during and after treatment and are committed to supporting you and your family through this challenging time."

For more information about the free breast cancer support services available at Breast Cancer Haven, please visit our website.