Are cancer patients with high depressive symptom levels able to manage these symptoms without professional care? The role of coping and social support

Esmee A. Bickel*, Joke Fleer, Adelita Ranchor, Maya J. Schroevers

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Objective
Around 25% of cancer patients experiences depressive symptoms. However, the majority does not receive formal psychological care because patients often prefer managing symptoms alone or with informal social support. Previous research has shown that adaptive coping and social support can indeed be effective in managing relatively mild depressive symptoms. However, higher depressive symptom levels rarely improve without psychological treatment. This longitudinal study examined how and to what extent coping and social support are related to reductions in depressive symptoms in cancer patients with moderate to severe depressive symptoms.

Methods
Respondents were diagnosed with cancer in the past five years, experienced high depressive symptom levels (PHQ-9 ≥ 10) and were not receiving psychological care at baseline. We collected data with self-report questionnaires (including PHQ-9, brief COPE and Social Support List) at two assessments, taken three months apart.

Results
Although depressive symptoms decreased significantly between baseline and follow-up, the average level at follow-up was still moderate to severe. Patients using less avoidant coping, specifically less substance use, were more likely to report a reduction of depressive symptoms. We found no significant beneficial effects of approach coping and social support (coping) on the course of depressive symptoms.

Conclusions
A significant group of cancer patients with high levels of depressive symptoms do not seem able to effectively manage depressive symptoms by themselves, especially those more likely to avoid dealing with their symptoms. Cancer patients can be educated about avoidant coping and its possible detrimental effects, as well as being informed about possibilities of psychosocial services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1102-1109
Number of pages8
JournalPsycho-oncology
Volume31
Issue number7
Early online date12-Feb-2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2022

Keywords

  • cancer
  • coping
  • depressive symptoms
  • oncology
  • psycho-oncology
  • social support
  • QUALITY-OF-LIFE
  • NECK-CANCER
  • BREAST
  • HEALTH
  • INTERVENTIONS
  • METAANALYSIS
  • DISTRESS
  • PREVALENCE
  • SEVERITY
  • ANXIETY

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