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This article talks about suicide. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call 988 for immediate help.

Having a cancer diagnosis can be a scary and unsettling time. Throughout treatment for cancer people may experience complicated emotions such as anxiety, sadness, fear, depression, and even thoughts of wishing to be dead or suicide.

At Moffitt Cancer Center we treat cancer while paying close attention to the ways that the disease can impact a patient. The emotional well-being of our patients is instrumental to their overall care. During National Suicide Prevention Month, it is critical to have a conversation about suicide risk.

While it is common to have periods of sadness and uneasiness throughout cancer treatment, research has shown that people living with cancer are at a higher risk of suicide than people not experiencing cancer. This is important information because knowledge leads to useful treatment and depression is a treatable illness. Some signs to watch for include feeling like a burden to loved ones; experiencing feelings of hopelessness or that life is no longer worth living; difficulty eating or sleeping when it is not related to cancer or treatment; increased tearfulness; feeling unworthy and isolated; and thoughts of suicide.

headshot of Donna DiClementi, LCSW, manager of Outpatient Social Work

Donna DiClementi, Manager, Outpatient Social Work

Unfortunately there tends to be a stigma associated with mental health so people may not be comfortable sharing how they feel with the supportive people in their life or even with their medical provider. While receiving care at Moffitt, patients need not feel alone with their complicated emotions. Patients may be asked by nurses, social workers and other medical providers about distress, depression, thoughts of wishing to be dead and suicide. These questions are important ways for the treatment team to gain understanding of the best ways to care for the whole person. These questions also allow patients at Moffitt to know that it is acceptable and encouraged to talk about their mental well-being before, during and after their cancer treatment.

There are many ways to experience relief once depression is recognized. A good place to start is counseling with a social worker or psychologist. Sometimes anti-depressant medication may be suggested by the treatment team. A psychiatrist who understands managing anti-depressants along with other medication used to treat cancer is the best resource.  People often find relief through hearing how others cope so joining one of Moffitt’s many support groups is beneficial. Integrative medicine such as massage, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness can alleviate physical and emotional symptoms of cancer treatment and increase coping skills.

Moffitt patients can access social work help to discuss all the ways that are available to assist with the emotions of a cancer diagnosis by calling 813-745-8407. Immediate help for anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts can be found by calling 988 or texting HOME to 741741 anywhere in the United States.

This article was written by Donna DiClementi, LCSW, manager of Outpatient Social Work at Moffitt Cancer Center.