Identifying suicide risk in cancer patients

A doctor looks at x-rays on a tablet

A diagnosis of cancer is always going to be a traumatic experience in a person’s life regardless of circumstance as it heralds a long struggle to recover, a significant amount of pain in the future, and in some cases the possibility of death.

However, proper cancer treatment should not and cannot be limited to just treating the physical symptoms. Cancer can also cause significant damage to a person’s mental state, so it is just as important that cancer patients receive adequate care for their psyche.

Although suicidal ideation can affect anyone in nearly any circumstance, studies have shown that people who have been diagnosed with cancer have at least double the risk of dying by suicide as the average person, with the risk being the highest right after diagnosis. The level of risk increase varies based on the type of cancer diagnosed, with cancers affecting the head, neck, pancreas, and larynx being among those with the highest risk.

There is confusing data regarding exactly what it is about cancer that increase suicide ideation, given that the disease often creates a sense of hopelessness, depression, and in some cases a wish to hasten death.

However, the risk of suicide ideation is increased significantly if a patient felt their dignity and quality of life deteriorating. For example, a study on patients with stomach cancer showed that suicide risk increased significantly if their caner caused bowel distress. Similarly, patients who experience significant pain are at higher risk of suicide, which is a large reason a key component of cancer treatment should be pain management.

Similar to the treatment of depression

The treatment for suicidal ideations in cancer patients is very similar to the treatment of depression in the general population. Cancer patients need adequate psychological care and therapy that is sometimes supplemented by pharmaceuticals, though great care is required to ensure any mood-altering medications don’t interfere with cancer treatments.

Some level of psychotherapy is critical for a patient to adjust to the new challenges those diagnosed with cancer will face as well as to help them set new goals for the future and maintain a healthy outlook on life.

One of the major issues when it comes to dealing with suicidal ideation in cancer patients is that many health care providers do not believe they are adequately prepared to discuss suicide prevention and mental health, nor do they feel they have the ability to provide the appropriate care and resources to people experiencing suicidal ideation.

This study is quite alarming as it shows that many places are unable to provide the full breadth of treatment needed to ensure a patient’s well-being in the event of a cancer diagnosis.

Suicide and cancer are two of the top 10 causes of death among adults living in the United States, and people who are diagnosed with cancer are at a much higher risk of dying by suicide due to a variety of biological and psychological factors. As such, cancer patients must be able to receive quality mental health care in addition to treating the physical symptoms.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of suicide and help families navigate what is an extraordinarily difficult time. We serve clients nationwide, so if a loved one was diagnosed with cancer and died by suicide after receiving inadequate mental health care, contact attorney Skip Simpson today.

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