Researchers in Utah state that cancer patients are at particular risk for mental health issues

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SALT LAKE CITY – Hodgkin lymphoma patients and survivors suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders more than the general population, according to a new study from the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The lead researcher sees this as a call to action to support mental health.

Huntsman Cancer Institute researchers found that people with Hodgkin lymphoma are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicide and self-harm.

The Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor from Rock Springs, Wyoming, said she’s felt it a lot.

“I was diagnosed on May 5, 2020,” said Gretchen Baldwin, who learned she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I was diagnosed, I felt like I had a really good outlook on it. It’s either going to be me or I’m going to beat it,” she said.

However, after six months of chemotherapy, followed by remission, his mental outlook deteriorated.

“It was just a lot of emotions, depression and really sad,” she said.

Fighting cancer during the pandemic made it worse. “I always felt like I was on my deathbed in my room,” Baldwin said.

Cancer research published this week suggests Baldwin is not alone.

“It usually affects younger patients,” Dr. Randa Tao said. Tao is a principal investigator and associate professor of radiation oncology at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the University of Utah School of Medicine.

When his team started the study, they didn’t think they would find mental health problems because Hodgkin lymphoma patients usually survive.

“It is considered one of the most incurable cancers,” Tao said.

Hodgkin lymphoma patients and survivors are more likely to suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders than the general population, according to a new study from the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Hodgkin lymphoma patients and survivors are more likely to suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders than the general population, according to a new study from the Huntsman Cancer Institute. (Photo: Gretchen Baldwin)

But cancer patients are also more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

“They’re suddenly hit with this major diagnosis and it can be a disruptive event in their lives,” he said.

Therefore, this topic requires further research.

“This is an important first step in showing that this is a problem beyond all the physical effects of the treatment,” the researcher said. “It allows us as physicians … to be more aware of the overall big picture of patients’ psychosocial well-being beyond the physical effects we focus on.”

Baldwin saw a therapist and took medication. But she still worries that the cancer might come back.

“I still feel like I have a lot of mental health issues. I have a lot of anxiety and depression,” Baldwin said.

Dr. Doctors can use this information to help patients like Baldwin understand if this is the right response to their cancer, Tao said.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988: 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Crisis hotlines

  • Huntsman Mental Health Institute Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • SafeUT Crisis Line: 833-372-3388
  • 988 Suicide and Crisis LifeLine 988
  • Trevor Project LGBTQ Teen Hotline: 1-866-488-7386

online resources

Warning signs of suicide

  • Talk about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill himself
  • Talk about feeling hopeless or aimless
  • Talking about a trap or excruciating pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling anxious, agitated, or acting recklessly
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Feeling restricted or isolated
  • Talking about anger or revenge
  • Show extreme mood

The more a person exhibits these symptoms, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide, but do not cause suicide.

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

What to do if you see the warning signs of suicide

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Take the person to the emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

the photos

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Jed Boal

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