People Experiencing Terminal Illness Desperately Need Mental Health Support. My Wife Was One

Mental Health Support

A while ago, my dear wife died from cancer after courageously fighting it for more than 30 months. The pain, loss of mobility, nausea and numerous other symptoms were so much for her. The excessive anxiety and deep depression occasionally spiraled out of control, making her life and also the lives of the people closest to her tricky. From the time she was diagnosed, the most challenging experience was coming to terms with the disability.

She had no desire to go outside, not even sitting in our beautiful garden, even listening to the birds. She was crying every day and sometimes the entire day. She declined reading books, and she could not eat, she did not know the feeling of pleasure anymore. During the last year of her life, the only thing she did was sitting silently on our setting room, watching daytime television.

It is astonishing that just a few years before she was very vibrant, outgoing and highly intelligent. She adored her allotment, loved the garden and also loved designing. She started experiencing severe pain in her back in 2016, at the beginning of 2017, it was discovered that it was cancer, and it had spread into the spine. It is obvious to expect an impact on the mental health of anyone after hearing that they have a terminal illness. Yet, regretfully, she did not see a psychiatrist or a psychologist to undergo any intensive mental health assessment. She was, however, offered cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling by Macmillan Cancer Support, our NHS services and the hospital.

The waiting list can take months, and the persons delivering the therapies were usually unqualified to handle terminal illness. She only got a few weeks of therapy, as if her difficulties would disappear magically, only to be sent back on the waiting list. The sessions did not help much anyway, as she would leave a CBT session clutching booklet intended for her to read. This was a near impossible obligation for an individual who was usually overly stressed to even glance at a newspaper. One of the sheets instructed her to do some gardening.

She was offered antidepressants after a year or so into the illness; she, however, declined to take them until she was admitted to a hospital. Although it was her choice, obviously, she would have taken a different option if she was in the hands of a knowledgeable psychiatrist. The oncology team were exemplary. They handled every detail when assessing ways to help with Sarah’s physical symptoms. Her mental health challenges, however, remained untreated. An opportunity never came to see the hospital’s overstretched Psycho-oncologist.

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