Prostate cancer & mental health

Mental health is in the news again

The recent release of the Productivity Commission’s report has put mental health back in the news.

For those of you who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer (or have a loved one who’s had that diagnosis), you will know that it affects a man’s mental health.  “Mental health” is an unfortunate term – many people don’t like it, or think it is something to fear.

The following quote from the Heart Foundation is very helpful:

According to BeyondBlue, ‘mental health’ is often used as a substitute for mental health conditions – such as depression, anxiety conditions, schizophrenia, and others.  However, it refers to your level of health and wellbeing, or ‘wellness’, rather than meaning that you have an illness.

In Australia, around 1 in 2 people will struggle with their mental health during their lifetime.

According to the World Health Organization:

Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.

So rather than being about ‘what’s the problem?’, it’s really about ‘what’s going well?’.

Getting a cancer diagnosis (prostate cancer or any other type of cancer) is obviously a stressful and worrying event.  Waiting for news about test results can also cause anxiety.  Then there is the worry about choosing a treatment option (if the prostate cancer is caught early enough to leave a man with choices).

Trying to make a decision when there are no guarantees of success is really hard and men can get stuck in a loop, unsure about what path to take.  Alan’s earlier article about decision making can provide some assistance if you do feel stuck.

Undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and dealing with the side-effects are the next set of hurdles for men and their loved ones.  There is so much stress – and grief – involved when a man struggles to get an erection.

It is so important for all of us to understand that sex is a normal and fundamental part of human life.

Erectile dysfunction is profoundly distressing for men and can cause major damage to their sense of self.

What can we do to help?

As friends, family, loved ones and partners, there is plenty that we can do to help those men with prostate cancer.  For example:

  • Reach out to one another.
  • Talk and listen, listen and talk.
  • Take the time to deeply listen and care about the other person.
  • Learn about prostate cancer – not so you can become “an expert”, but so you have a better understanding of the condition and the treatments.
  • Offer help, in whatever form you can.
  • You could offer to go along with a friend to their next medical appointment – or share the driving, if it’s a long-distance trip.
  • Offer to mow the lawn or help with the gardening.
  • Consider doing some grocery shopping or child-minding to give your friend a chance to rest and recuperate from their treatment.

What if YOU are the one who needs help?

If you are the one suffering the emotional pain, take some positive action.

  • Attend a Prostate Cancer Support Group, if there is one in your area.  They can be very helpful, even just for a once-only visit.  Contact the support group leader by phone, if you can’t attend a meeting (or feel a bit uncomfortable about it).  The group leaders will often be happy to talk over the phone or meet you for a coffee and a chat.
  • Talk to your nearest and dearest – let them know that you really need their help.
  • Contact the Cancer Council Hotline 13 11 20.  If you have a question about cancer, or if you’re seeking emotional or practical support, they have specially trained staff available (plus it’s free and confidential).
  • Go for a walk in the most beautiful surroundings you can find and let yourself drink in nature’s beauty.
  • Sit in the sunshine (with sensible UV protection, of course).
  • Spend time with your pet and enjoy their love.
  • Check out your nearest Men’s Shed.  These places are fantastic – very welcoming and supportive, as well as great places to learn new skills or teach others your skills.

If you are in crisis

Call a support line

Lifeline Australia   13 11 14

Beyond Blue   1300 22 4636

Open Arms (for veterans & their families)  1800 011 046

Learn some new coping strategies

If you need some new strategies to help yourself move forward and cope with the emotional rollercoaster, MensLine Australia is an excellent website with great articles and tools.

You can also call them for immediate help – 1300 789 978.

The following links will take you to some of their fantastic and very practical articles:

How to talk about your emotions

How to learn active listening

How family, friends and carers can help the men they love

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