The Relevance of Mental Health for Prostate Cancer Survivors
Prostate cancer survivorship requires ongoing monitoring for cancer recurrence, the development of new cancers, or chronic health conditions. Most of the research on the quality of life of cancer survivors has been completed in the past decade, with the majority of studies focusing on women with breast cancer.
How does mental health play a role?
The mental health stressors that impact prostate cancer survivorship are multifaceted, involving emotional, social, occupational, and financial spheres that increase anxiety and depressive symptoms. Mental health screenings need to be better integrated into active cancer treatment and survivorship with appropriate referrals to mental health professionals. Social workers and patient navigators can help to identify appropriate and affordable resources to improve patients’ mental health status.
Enhancing the quality of mental health services
An Office of Men’s Health at the U.S. Department of Human Services that mirror’s the work of the existing Office of Women’s Health could greatly enhance the quality of mental services available to prostate cancer survivors. What we know is that the Office of Women’s Health, established in 1991, has helped to improve the quality of life for thousands of women. A Government Accounting Office analysis of gender-specific research funding at NIH indicates that spending on conditions that affect females exceeds the spending on conditions that affect males. The economic cost of maintaining the status quo is even more alarming when you consider that prostate cancer is a frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States among men with associated costs in excess of $8 billion annually.
Addressing community needs
Establishing an Office of Men’s Health is needed to investigate these findings and take further actions that promote mental health awareness. Such actions would serve to educate men and their families about the importance of early detection and the appropriate use of prostate-specific antigen as well as other pertinent health issues that can reduce rates of mortality.
A multidisciplinary team that specializes in the psychological, social, and behavioral dimensions of prostate cancer is one way to advance mental health services and treatment. There is a need for periodic mental health screening using validated instruments across the continuum of cancer care. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), is a good resource that uses screening instruments for depression and/or anxiety.
It's time to support our men
This problem is compounded by the fact that traditional cultural norms in our society make it difficult for men to seek out mental help services. Conceptions about masculinity raise many questions about what it means to be a man. The pressures that many men experience when they are not able to conform to rigid notions of masculinity around gender norms often create tension and anxiety. We must all strive to explore both positives and negative consequences of cultural forces that shape ideas about gender in our society.
Becoming part of the conversation
Ultimately men must take more responsibility for the management, treatment, and delivery of mental health services. This will entail the development of a national infrastructure designed to better understand the needs of men and the development of innovative approaches that address positive health-seeking behaviors.
Have you made personal connections through your journey with prostate cancer?