Cancer and depression

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Feeling sad sometimes is normal, especially during cancer treatment. Learn about the differences between feeling sad and depression and treatment options available.

Key points

  • Depression is more than a feeling of sadness or grief; it can last for longer and affect your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and overall health.
  • Signs and symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness that do not go away, not feeling up to participating in your regular activities, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating and feeling negative or empty.
  • If you ever have feelings of harming yourself, tell someone who can help right away.
  • For people with depression, it is important to talk about your symptoms and how you are feeling, try to be physically active and get enough sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs. Depression can also be treated with medication, therapy or a combination.

Is it normal to feel sad sometimes?

Sadness and grief are normal feelings when you have cancer or have survived cancer. Because these feelings are common, it’s important to understand the difference between normal sadness and depression.

Cancer and depression

Symptoms of depression often start with a difficult or stressful situation, such as having cancer. In fact, symptoms of depression affect about 1 in 4 people with cancer.

What is depression?

Depression is an illness. It is more than just normal sadness or feeling down. Depression lasts for a longer time and affects your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and overall health. Some people think only adults get depression, but teenagers get depression too. About 8 per cent of teens in Canada experience depression. Just like there is treatment for many other illnesses, there is treatment for depression too. Many people get better after treatment.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

Symptoms of depression can be emotional, physical and behavioural. If you have several of the following symptoms, find someone you trust and who you can talk to about how you feel, or talk to a member of your health-care team.

  • Feeling sadness that doesn’t go away or crying a lot
  • Not feeling like doing the things you used to like – you don’t really see your friends and want to be left alone most of the time
  • Low self-esteem, including losing confidence in yourself
  • Finding it hard to make up your mind, concentrate or remember things
  • Feeling hopeless, like nothing good is going to happen
  • Having a negative attitude or feeling empty
  • Getting irritated or upset easily
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Feeling guilty without any real reason
  • Feeling really tired and like you don’t have energy a lot of the time

Remember that we are all different and you may have some of these feelings and not others, or they might not be quite the same.

If you have thoughts of harming yourself, tell someone who can help you right away!

Depression doesn’t mean that:

  • you’re lazy, crazy, or weak
  • you should "just get over it"
  • there is something wrong with you as a person
  • you’ve done something that makes you deserve to feel bad

What can I do about depression?

It’s important to get treatment for symptoms of depression before it leads to other problems such as failing school, relationship troubles or problems with alcohol or drugs.

  • Talking about your symptoms of depression is the first step to getting better. You can talk directly to your doctor or nurse or another member of your health-care team such as a psychologist, a social worker, a counsellor or a psychiatrist. You can tell your family or tell someone you trust at school. They can help you get the treatment you need.
  • Depression can be successfully treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
  • Being active and getting enough rest can help reduce the symptoms of depression.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. They may seem like a good way to escape but they make depression worse. Talk to a member of your health-care team instead. They won’t judge you. Being honest is an important part of getting better.


The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario: Frequently Asked Questions – Teen Depression

The British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development: Dealing with Depression: Antidepressant Skills for Teens

Last updated: September 3rd 2019