1. Low mood and breast cancer
2. What causes depression?
3. When to ask for support
4. Support and treatment for depression

1. Low mood and depression after a breast cancer diagnosis

Most people experience some low moods and sadness after a diagnosis for breast cancer. Low mood usually improves after a few days, but if it doesn’t then you could have depression.  

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

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2. What causes depression?

Some people become depressed because of the impact of breast cancer, such as:

  • dealing with the shock of diagnosis
  • ongoing physical effects
  • uncertainty about the future

After treatment ends it can be made worse by:

  • missing the reassurance of being seen by your specialist team
  • people close to you expecting you to carry on with the life you had before breast cancer
  • feeling isolated
  • losing your sense of identity
  • your self-confidence having been affected
  • worries about breast cancer coming back

Find out more about adjusting to life after treatment ends.

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.

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3. When to ask for support

If you or the people close to you are worried because you have any of the following signs, you should talk to your specialist team or GP:

  • 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 (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

Your specialist team or GP can refer you to a counsellor, psychiatrist or psychologist for help and support.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that you’re feeling depressed, or finding it hard to cope, and that you need professional help. Some people find it particularly hard to seek professional advice but it can help to relieve these symptoms and allow you to regain control of your life.

4. Support and treatment for depression

There are lots of different ways that can help you cope with depression:

Talking therapies

Professional support such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be of benefit and your specialist team or GP will be able to direct you to services in your area.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant drugs may be recommended to treat 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.

Talking to other people with breast cancer

Joining a cancer support group to meet others with a similar experience may be helpful. You can search for support groups near you on the Macmillan Cancer Support website.

Our Someone Like Me service can put you in touch with a trained volunteer who has been through similar experiences to you. They are there to listen to your concerns and share their experiences. You can talk with them over the phone or by email if you prefer.

Talking to our breast care nurses

You can speak to one of our breast care nurses by:

Online support

These organisations provide information and support to help you cope with depression:

  • Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day, for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You can call them on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • You can find more information about depression on the NHS website. On that site you can also visit  Moodzone, which includes relaxation tips to relieve stress.
  • The Mental Health Foundation has more information on talking therapies that you may find helpful.

Your mental health toolkit

We've put together a mental health toolkit with information and tips to help you look after your mental health after breast cancer.

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Last reviewed: September 2018
Next planned review begins 2020

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