October is a month that is near and dear to my heart because it impacts me on both a professional and a personal level. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the first full week is Mental Health Awareness Week. I can’t help but think about how the two intersect on multiple levels.
I was working here at the foundation when we released “Connecting Body and Mind: A Resource Guide to Integrated Health Care in Texas and the United States.” Having lost my mother to breast cancer two years ago, I saw the impact her physical condition had on her mental health. Even with my mother’s strong spiritual foundation and outstanding positive outlook on life, at times even her mental health was impacted by living with a life-threatening illness. Now that a few years have passed and the hazy fog of grief, loss and extreme sorrow is slowly lifting, the importance of “integrated services” has struck a chord with me like never before.
It is not uncommon for a physical ailment to impact one’s mental health. Matter of fact, as stated in our resource guide on integrated health care, “medically ill populations are at increased risk for behavioral health problems, just as individuals with behavioral health problems are at higher risk for medical comorbidities. Failing to treat medical or psychiatric comorbidities decreases an individual’s chances for successful recovery and overall health.”
In doing some simple internet research, I came across an article on the Good Therapy website that supports this notion. It states, “Addressing the mental health needs of cancer patients at all ages is essential, and counseling for cancer patients is valuable for its own sake. But it does go a step further: failing to address these concerns may actually decrease the patient’s odds of recovery.”
My mother worked in the social services field for over 40 years and spent countless hours helping children, youth and families lead happy, productive lives. In honor of my mother’s love and commitment to others, I plan to reach out to individuals who are living with cancer in a different way than I have in the past. I am going to specifically remind them about the importance of taking care of their mental health on their journey to physical recovery.
I would love to hear more from others about their thoughts on this topic, including specific ways you take care of yourself while living with cancer or another life-threatening illness. How do you make the connection – mind, body and soul – for yourself or those you care about?