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Depression is a common condition which can have a broad range of symptoms, from feeling continuously low in spirits to having no will to live.

Depression can be a normal response to trauma and a way of coping, but as you adjust to what has happened, you will gain energy and your mood should improve.

Some people become depressed because of the impact of breast cancer and this can happen at any stage during diagnosis and treatment, or after treatment has finished.

How to recognise depression

If negative thoughts are interfering with your life and don’t go away within a few weeks, or keep coming back, it may indicate that you’re depressed.

If you or the people close to you are worried because you have any of the following symptoms, talk to your GP (local doctor) or hospital team, who can refer you to a counsellor, psychiatrist or psychologist for help and support:

  • loss of enjoyment and interest in everyday things and experiences
  • loss of interest in your appearance
  • persistent thoughts such as ‘I can’t be bothered’ or ‘What’s the point?’
  • withdrawing from others, such as not going out or socialising
  • feeling more tearful and irritable than usual
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time
  • loss of appetite or overeating
  • feeling very low in mood or even suicidal.

You don’t have to ignore these feelings and struggle on. Realising that there is a problem and getting help is the most important thing you can do.

Support and treatment for depression

There are several treatments for depression, including talking therapies and antidepressants.

You can also call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 for guidance about coping with the impact of breast cancer. Alternatively, you can email a Breast Cancer Care nurse. All the emails we receive are treated confidentially.

Samaritans provides confidential, non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You can call 116 123 or email

Talking therapies

Your GP may recommend a talking therapy to treat depression. There are several types including counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

One-to-one counselling

One-to-one counselling takes place in a private and confidential setting. You will be able to explore feelings such as anger, anxiety and grief, which can be related to your cancer diagnosis, making them easier to understand and cope with.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you change patterns of thinking and behaviour. Unlike some techniques, it focuses on problems and difficulties you are having in the ‘here and now’. Instead of exploring causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve your state of mind in the present.


Antidepressant drugs may be recommended for some people to treat the symptoms of depression. It usually takes up to six weeks before you notice the effects and start to feel an improvement in mood, although it may take longer to feel the full benefits. Antidepressants can be an extra support during a particularly difficult time.

Last reviewed: March 2016
Next planned review begins 2018

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