Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer, usually discovered decades after the asbestos exposure that caused it. The physical damage caused by the disease is overwhelming. So too is the accompanying psychological distress, which threatens to spread if left unaddressed.
There is no easy way of getting through life after a mesothelioma diagnosis, but there are positive steps patients, caregivers, and their families can take in order to manage their mental health.
Mesothelioma Affects Caregivers and Families, Too
The first thing to realize is that the shock of a mesothelioma diagnosis will be felt throughout the patient’s family and social network.
In the coming days, those closest to the person will step into the unfamiliar role of caregiver. For spouses, children, parents, and friends, this requires a massive adjustment that completely reorients an important relationship.
Just as the patient needs help in the wake of this life-changing event, so do those who have the new responsibility of providing that support.
Caretaking is emotionally and physically exhausting. In order to remain a positive resource in a mesothelioma patient's life, caretakers and those around them need to attend to their mental health and well-being.
In confronting a new challenge in mesothelioma, it makes sense that everyone affected needs new tools, perspective, and support.
Here’s how to get started.
Recognize Signs of Psychological Distress
Cancer patients suffer from depression at a much higher rate than the general population. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it is just one of a number of distressing new feelings that people experience in the wake of a cancer diagnosis, including:
- Fear and Worry
- Stress and Anxiety
Because mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that does not typically respond well to treatment, these feelings may be especially pronounced among survivors and their families.
It’s important to recognize that, as powerful and justified as these negative feelings can seem, there are also productive ways to respond. The NCI offers guidance about coping with cancer feelings, which can help people identify these emotions and take steps to get help.
Understand Mesothelioma Coping Strategies vs Defense Mechanisms
Over the years, people develop their own ways to handle negative emotions. Sometimes these processes are unsuited to the new challenges posed by a mesothelioma diagnosis.
A recent article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at the emotional impact that mesothelioma had on patients and caregivers.
The researchers focused on the coping strategies and defense mechanisms. Although both processes allow people to manage painful emotions in overwhelming situations, they are different in several key aspects:
- Coping strategies are conscious and intentional processes that a person uses to manage specific internal/external problems.
- Defense mechanisms are usually unconscious and unintentional processes that aim to protect a person’s ego (sense of themself) from internal/external dangers and conflicts.
After surveying 108 patients and 94 caregivers, the researchers found that “both patients and caregivers rely on unconscious defense mechanisms to protect themselves from overwhelming emotions connected to the diagnosis.”
Some defense mechanisms can be valuable. Humor, for example, may help people to manage a threatening feeling without distorting reality.
Other unconscious defense mechanisms can have a negative impact. Emotional suppression, for example, “is often used by cancer patients to not think about and verbalize the negative emotions related to cancer.” According to the researchers, “there is evidence that this strategy seems to increase their levels of psychological distress.”
What’s important to take away is that gut reactions and reflexive responses may not be productive and may contribute to worse outcomes for mesothelioma patients and their family.
Moving forward, it is important for everyone involved to be thoughtful about how they respond to the negative feelings and emotions linked with mesothelioma.
Positive Coping Strategies for Mesothelioma
Executing productive coping strategies is one way that mesothelioma patients, families, and caretakers can maintain and renew their sense of purpose and control. These are some of the most common effective coping strategies that have been identified:
- Build a support network: For patients, it’s important to be able to open up about what they are going through. By building out the network of people involved in supporting the patient, it creates more opportunities for connection, growth, and acceptance. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) provides many helpful resources to connect with others who have been affected by mesothelioma.
- Maintain a healthy diet: It’s all too easy to lose focus on nutrition as the patient and family adjust to doctor’s visits, treatments, and other new demands. Making sure that everyone is eating healthy meals is one easy way to positively affect mental health.
- Get exercise: In addition to improving your physical well-being, the emotional benefits of exercise are well documented. Exercise produces endorphins, which are chemicals in the body that reduce a person’s perception of pain and trigger positive feelings.
As commonsense as these coping strategies may seem, they can be difficult to implement and maintain after a mesothelioma diagnosis. If a person’s treatment involves chemotherapy, for example, it may make eating much more difficult, which can impact diet and exercise.
Seek Compensation Through a Mesothelioma Lawsuit
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos, a toxic substance that was used widely during the 20th century and still exists in many buildings today. The companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products knew about its cancer-causing potential, but they hid the facts from regulators, workers, and the public.
When the truth came out, many of those companies were forced into bankruptcy and their assets were reorganized into asbestos trust funds that were set aside for the thousands of future victims.
If you, or someone in your life, has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, there may be financial compensation available. The ability to file a mesothelioma lawsuit will depend on how a person was exposed to asbestos.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal case review.