What Types of Psychological Support are Available to Me?
Mesothelioma affects more than just a person’s physical health. There can be serious psychological and emotional impacts when someone receives this type of diagnosis. In addition to finding the best medical team for the treatment of mesothelioma, it is critically important that you understand how this diagnosis may affect you mentally in addition to what types of psychosocial support are available to you. Support groups, individual counseling, and spiritual support are all methods that may be helpful for you emotionally during your physical treatment of mesothelioma.
Psychological Effects of Mesothelioma
In addition to the physical harm caused by mesothelioma, this type of diagnosis can also harm the emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of a person’s life. Common examples of psychosocial issues faced by patients diagnosed with mesothelioma include the following:
- Trouble coping with the diagnosis,
- Distancing from friends and family,
- Changes in the family dynamic,
- Problems with decision-making,
- Problems at work,
- Feeling unable to partake in enjoyable activities,
- Financial concerns,
- Stress in making choices about care,
- Problems expressing emotion,
- Different feelings about your own body,
- Fear of cancer coming back,
- Fear of death and dying, and more.
There are many psychosocial support services offered by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, clinical nurse specialists or practitioners, licensed counselors, and religious support staff that can help you through whatever psychological or emotional issues you are facing in addition to the mesothelioma.
Studies have shown that patients diagnosed with mesothelioma suffer from significant amounts of psychosocial distress that can affect the emotional, cognitive, social, and functional areas of their life. Anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of all mesothelioma patients suffer from some level of psychosocial issues following diagnosis, with some of the most common reports including anxiety, depression, and distress. Common signs of these issues include:
- Persistent sadness,
- Loss of appetite or overeating,
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities,
- Insomnia or oversleeping (unrelated to medical treatment),
- Suicidal ideation,
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and
- Restlessness, fatigue, or a general lack of energy
- Obvious tension or anxiety,
- Appearing tense,
- Difficulty with problem-solving,
- Trembling or shaking,
- Headaches or migraines, and
- Angering easily
Patient Support Groups
The purpose of support groups is to bring people together who are in a similar situation, and support groups exist for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. A support group provides the space for a person to share how they are feeling with people that understand their circumstances as well as learn more about how others are coping with a similar situation. This space allows people to reconcile their feelings about their diagnosis, treatment, side effects, and mortality. It can also be helpful in figuring out the answers to more practical questions that many patients face when dealing with mesothelioma, such as financial and work-related issues. Look for support groups that are specific to mesothelioma, the type of treatment you are receiving, or the stage of your diagnosis or treatment. Support groups can also be specific to a particular gender, race, or age group.
The level of sophistication for a support group varies widely. Some groups are led by professionals like social workers, psychologists, or nurses, while others are run by other mesothelioma patients or survivors. Some support groups provide additional education on the issue, while others are simply there to let people communicate with one another about the situation. In addition to psychosocial support for the patient, support groups also exist for the spouse, children, parents, and caregivers of people with mesothelioma. These support groups allow loved ones to share their own concerns or questions, learn more about this disease, and determine the best way to support the person they know that is managing their mesothelioma diagnosis.
Support groups also vary widely in how they are run. Some groups meet in person, while others only exist online. Some support groups only have a limited number of people, while the attendance for others can grow or shrink. There are support groups that meet at a specific time and day every week, while others (especially those online) are available whenever someone needs it. Some groups have people who come in and present, some operate more like an open forum, and yet others may have the group leader speak on a topic that is important to the group. When deciding what support group to join, consider the following:
- Who the group is meant for,
- When and where they meet,
- If the meetings are in person or online,
- How many people attend,
- Who leads the meetings,
- Whether the support group is intended to provide education or strictly support, and
- Whether you are required to talk or could just listen.
There is nothing wrong with trying out a couple of different support groups after a mesothelioma diagnosis to find the right fit for you. Your needs may also change over time, which could necessitate a change to different support groups throughout your physical treatment.
Benefits of Support Groups
Support groups provide many benefits for mesothelioma patients. For support groups specific to this illness, oftentimes medical providers will come and present on topics and offer time for questions about the physical, mental, and psychological state of attendees. They can be a great place for mesothelioma patients to not feel like they are alone, especially with a diagnosis that is as uncommon as this. Support groups are known to increase the quality of life of patients and members’ outlook on life. It provides emotional support for people at a time when they need it most. They can help patients take control of their lives and their diagnosis, as it can be motivating to see others within the group take charge of their own prognosis. Lastly, a support group provides a safe space for mesothelioma patients suffering from additional psychosocial issues to talk about their problems without feeling isolated or judged. Simply being allowed to talk freely about their questions, fears, and concerns can do wonders for a person’s psychosocial well-being.
For patients diagnosed with mesothelioma who do not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings in a group setting, individual counseling may be a better option. During individual counseling, a patient speaks with a trained professional in a one-on-one setting about their fears, worries, questions, and concerns. This method allows a patient to focus fully on themselves, rather than sharing their time with others in a group setting. Some of the benefits of individual counseling include:
- Focusing on the issues that you are most concerned about,
- Learning methods of coping with the psychosocial issues occurring,
- Dealing with the symptoms of mesothelioma or related treatment,
- Determining how to handle changes, including the end of treatment or if the mesothelioma comes back,
- Figuring out how to deal with psychosocial issues of loved ones helping you through this time,
- Dealing with strong feelings, and
- Talking through concerns that you have about your physical, emotional, or psychological state
Individual counseling sessions are often run by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or trained counselor. In some cases, it may be recommended that the mesothelioma patient also engages in couples counseling or family counseling if others are facing their own struggles with the mesothelioma diagnosis. Learning about their questions, fears, and concerns can help illuminate issues that are also being discussed in an individual setting. Some people also do a combination of individual counseling and support groups, as they receive different benefits from each set.
Choosing an Individual Counselor
When choosing an individual counselor, there are many options available for a mesothelioma patient. Focus on the type of psychosocial help that you wish to receive and narrow your search from there. Every type of trained professional who offers individual counseling has their own focus and training, so there may be options out there that simply are not right for you. If you are unsure of where to start when finding an individual counselor, a good place to start is by talking to your medical care team about the issue. If possible, look for counselors who have specific experience dealing with patients who have a mesothelioma diagnosis or other cancers. Counselors who have experience with other mesothelioma patients understand what you are going through and will be able to normalize your experiences and emotions.
In addition to your medical care team, online reviews and support groups may also be able to recommend individual support options for you to review. Your insurer may also have a list of potential counselors through their own provider network for you to contact. Once you have a list, schedule a time to speak with each counselor until you find one that is right for you. Many offer a short phone call or in-person meeting as an initial consult. If you are struggling to determine which counselor to use, ask yourself whether you feel safe sharing your concerns with that person if you trust that they will be able to help you, and if you feel like the counselor is truly listening to you when you share your psychosocial issues.
Benefits of Individual Counseling
Just like support groups, there are also many benefits to engaging in individual counseling if faced with psychosocial issues after a mesothelioma diagnosis. This option provides a space for patients to share their feelings and uncertainties without feeling judged. It can also help a person verbalize their thoughts and emotions if they do not feel comfortable doing so in a group setting. Doing so may also help a patient verbalize those same things with their loved ones outside of a counseling session. Individual counseling can help empower patients to take charge of their diagnosis and increase their outlook on life. Couples and family counseling can also do the same for the loved ones of a patient who is suffering through their own psychosocial concerns.
Not everyone believes in a higher power, but for those who do, another option for help with psychosocial matters after a mesothelioma diagnosis is faith-based support. Spiritual or faith-based support can take many forms, but most involve individual or group sessions with a religious leader. Faith-based support may also take the form of attending worship services on a regular basis or adult-study sessions of the faith. Engaging in faith-based support for psychosocial issues may also provide another support group through the members of the organization. Pastors, priests, rabbis, imams, shamans, and other spiritual leaders can help a person find peace and address questions of faith-based concerns.
Benefits of Faith-Based Support
Similar to support groups and individual counseling, there are also benefits to seeking faith-based support for psychosocial issues following a mesothelioma diagnosis. One benefit is having someone there to simply listen to your concerns after a diagnosis without judgment. Faith-based support focuses on open and transparent conversations about hope, gratitude, fear, and meaning that may not happen in other types of mesothelioma support. Faith-based leaders and their institutions can provide a calming presence for those dealing with physical and psychological issues, and for those that believe in a higher power faith-based support can also involve the bestowing of prayers and blessings on behalf of the patient.
The final option for psychosocial support following a mesothelioma diagnosis is the use of group therapy. It is important to note that group therapy differs from a support group. Group therapy typically involves one or more trained psychologists or psychiatrists leading a group of four to fifteen individuals. Group therapy is often more structured than support groups, meeting at a specific place and time every week for an hour or two. The purpose of group therapy is to address a specific psychosocial issue, such as depression, anxiety, or loss. It may be focused specifically on mesothelioma patients or opened more broadly to other attendees. There are many people who attend group therapy that also participates in one or more of the other psychosocial support options.
There are many ways to find group therapy that fits your specific needs. Your insurer may have suggestions, as might your medical care team. There may be a psychologist or psychiatrist who offers group therapy through the same medical facilities where the physical treatment is taking place. When considering whether to join group therapy, consider the following questions:
- Is the group open to new members or closed?
- Does the program run for a specific period of time?
- How many people are in the group?
- How diverse is the group?
- How much should I or do I want to share?
- Is group therapy enough?
Benefits of Group Therapy
The benefits of group therapy are very similar to that of support groups. Many mesothelioma patients suffering from psychosocial issues are surprised by how rewarding group therapy can feel, especially when used as a sounding board for an issue that every member is experiencing. Much like support groups, group therapy can also provide suggestions for solutions to problems, and patients can learn from others about how they handled a particularly difficult issue. Group therapy can help put some fears, concerns, or questions into perspective and provides relief to patients who realize that they are not alone in their struggles.
Another benefit to group therapy is the structure and specialization of this type of help. Group therapy goes beyond support groups, as they are run by trained and licensed professionals. Psychologists and psychiatrists are trained in leading group therapy and can utilize strategies to tackle difficult topics. This allows a patient to make the most of their time with a group.
Types of Psychosocial Support
Dealing with psychosocial issues after a diagnosis of mesothelioma is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people suffer from emotional and psychological issues such as depression or anxiety after learning that they are suffering from this illness, and there are many types of support out there to treat the psychosocial as well as the physical symptoms of this illness. Support groups, individual counseling, faith-based counseling, and group therapy all have their benefits, and it is up to you to determine which is best for you.