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More on Emotions and Health: How Much Are We Responsible?

More on Emotions and Health: How Much Are We Responsible?

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 09/21/2009
Last Updated: 11/23/2009

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on illness and personality struck lots of readers and elicited many interesting comments. This comment resonated most strongly with me.

"This makes good sense to me except that it's not always a one to one (sort of an obvious comment). I'm thinking of my dear friend struggling with lymphoma right now who is one of the most positive and kind people I know, with a very good outlook on life. I guess all that can't prevent you from GETTING the disease but it can speed your recovery (at least I REALLY hope so in her case)."

I might be a bit sensitive when it comes to the topic of cancer - and reading this comment and thinking about these scientific studies really hits hard. The relationship between personality and health conditions is tricky; after all, illness can strike unfairly and randomly, and is it always under our "control?"

Yes, negative emotion can play a powerful role - chronic stress is responsible for suppressed immune function, especially where cancer, AIDS and autoimmune diseases are concerned ...but what about the times when bad things happen despite our best intentions to stay healthy?

What bothers me even more is this latest report to hit the media: . Now here's a double whammy: if you are depressed, you increase your chance of getting cancer; and if you already have cancer and are depressed, your odds of death are greater.

It's just too much weight for a cancer patient to carry (aside from all the burdens they are already coping with) : that somehow he/she could be or have been healthier *if only* they weren't depressed; and survive, too, *if only* they kept depression at bay.

To me, are undoubtedly closely related. After all, it's a real kick in the gut, and the emotional implications (never mind the physical ones) are huge.

And you can be sure that there are loads of cancer patients out there who are depressed enough without reading or hearing on the news that their depression is an additional serious threat to their health.

If indeed this is the case - that depression lowers your chance of surviving cancer - and the majority of cancer patients will experience depression - what's important here is for doctors - and anyone else who is a support system - to treat cancer as not just an illness to eradicate but as a life-changing emotional issue as well. Patients need to be emotionally well-armed to cope with what could be debilitating treatments and what follows - a life forever altered.

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Wishing your sister all the best!

Stephanie, I definitely agree that illness has a way of bringing out the best (or worst) in friends. And I also agree very strongly about the learning experience...a painful one, yet a valuable one.

Again, I'm so glad you're writing about this. It's such an interesting topic and offers new ways to look, not only at illness, but at healing.

An interesting part of modern life is that we collectively DO NOT deal well with ongoing, lasting illness. We have this burning question: Aren't you better yet?

I think that's hard for you (if you're the sick one) and for family/friends who are trying to be supportive.

This all hits close to home since my sis just started chemo and has had problems in the past with medications making her depressed.

This really hit home for me. I've got an ongoing condition, and depression really does directly affect my health. When I got sick, I discovered that I had a lot of fair weather friends - which was, of course, terribly depressing! But in the end I got better and learned so much about myself from these experiences. I'm stronger for it, but it certainly did not speed my recovery. ;)

And good point about the medication/depression connection. This is unfortunate and certainly must be paid attention to, in my opinion. Medical doctors are so very rushed that I doubt this is even addressed when they write out prescriptions to "fix" a problem. So many other potential problems are created with these fixes, unfortunately, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Just to add another element. I read a story last week that some medications used to treat certain illnesses also cause depression. So whether a person is already predisposed to depression or not, perhaps the drugs treating the cancer might have a sort of circular effect then causing depression. But I think your point is well said that with cancer, a patient should be treated as a whole person, not just treating a medical illness. Have you read any of Bernie Siegel's work? He's been talking about the mind-body connection for years (an MD ahead of his time).


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