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Mental health support is key to holistic cancer care

Mental Health

A cancer diagnosis can make you feel like your life has been turned upside down. Day-to-day life becomes focused on doctor appointments and treatment plans, and you are faced with many months of not feeling like your normal, healthy self.

It's not surprising that feelings of anxiety and depression in cancer patients are incredibly common. The National Institutes of Health report that 60% of cancer patients experience some type of depression either during or after treatment.

Jamie Birris, PsyD, a psychologist with the psychosocial oncology services program at Spectrum Health Lakeland, said it is important to factor in mental health as part of your overall cancer treatment plan.

"Many cancer patients feel like they don't have time for counseling," said Dr. Birris. “But feeling depressed and anxious about cancer is expected, and that is exactly why we offer mental health services at Lakeland."

Including mental health care as part of cancer treatment and recovery

At Spectrum Health Lakeland new cancer patients complete a supportive care assessment and, depending on their needs and circumstances, are referred to a psychologist like Birris, or a social worker. The program is dedicated to helping cancer patients and their families navigate the cancer experience from the time they are diagnosed through treatment and recovery.

"Our oncologists check in with patients at every point along the cancer care journey," said Dr. Birris. "This is because depression and anxiety may not be apparent until several months into cancer treatment."

Strategies for coping and thriving

The psychosocial oncology program focuses on giving cancer patients and their families the necessary skills for coping with the different stressors of cancer. The goal is for every patient to maintain the best quality of life possible with resources such as:

  • Behavioral coaching in self-care strategies
  • Coping skills training and stress management
  • Crisis intervention
  • Instruction in relaxation skills and meditation techniques
  • Marital and family therapy
  • Non-pharmacological strategies for pain management
  • Support groups

The program also offers social support including:

  • Access to community resources
  • Decision making and care planning
  • Financial, insurance, and employment assistance
  • Medicare, Medicaid, and disability help

Tell us how you feel

Dr. Birris' number one piece of advice for cancer patients worried about their mental health is don't ignore it. Talk to your doctors about the emotional difficulties you are experiencing. Tending to them is just as important as the lifesaving treatments you are bravely taking on.

Learn more about the psychosocial services at Spectrum Health Lakeland at

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