October 10th is Mental Health Awareness Day. What does that have to do with myeloproliferative neoplasms? More than you think. In multiple surveys, people living with an MPN (Polycythemia Vera, Essential Thrombocythemia or Myelofibrosis) have reported a higher rate of anxiety or depression than the general population. A recent study from Denmark coroborated this. Looking at 2,209 people with an MPN who completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, the prevalence of anxiety, depression, and both was 21%, 12%, and 8%, respectively. But this has been noted before including by the Landmark Study and in a survey jointly conducted by the research and advocate communities.
Signs of depression or anxiety include Apathy (Losing interest in things that used to bring you joy.); Helplessness or hopelessness; Changes in habits (This can be hard to define especially if you are recently diagnosed or have become more symptomatic. Sleeping or eating too much or too little or drinking more alcohol than usual are all indications.);
There are some symptoms of depression / anxiety that overlap with MPN so may be under-reported. Those include fatigue, difficulty focusing or making decisions or un-ending worry. It is natural to be concerned after a new diagnosis or if you feel your symptom burden is increasing or disease is progressing. But there are people who understand what you are going through and are ready to help!
1. Reach out to Cancer Support Community. They uniquely understand the social-emotional element of living with any form of cancer. They have a helpline available for you to call: 888-793-9355 Open Mon–Fri 9am – 9pm ET
3. Try a new activity proven to reduce anxiety, such as yoga. There even have been studies on the positive effect of yoga for someone living with an MPN. Of course, consult with your physician before attempting any new activity for you.
4. Take advantage of one of the free helplines from the National Aliance of Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-HelpLine/Top-HelpLine-Resources
And remember: you are not alone. What you are experiencing is valid and you have every right to ask for help when you need it. And that includes caregivers, who also need support. The resources available above also offer support for the caregivers for those with an MPN.
Make today the day to focus on your mental health!