Online Support For Breast Cancer
Receiving face-to-face psychological care while going through breast cancer treatment is not for everybody.
However, it is still important to look after your mental health during this time and it’s important to note that it is common to struggle mentally throughout this time.
Clinical Psychologist and Cancer Council South Australia Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lisa Beatty, said those undergoing treatment for cancer often are undergoing psychological distress.
“We know that approximately 30 to 40% of women, after their diagnosed with breast cancer, will have what we call clinically significant distress, where it is impacting on their ability to either enjoy their lives or stopping them from getting out and doing things, impacting on their functioning.”
“We also know that of those, when offered, only less than 30% of distressed people with cancer actually take up the offer of help in face to face interventions like going and seeing a psychologist.”
Dr Beatty said online tools have been created to help bridge this gap caused by limited access to mental health workers and for those who are not comfortable seeking face to face support.
She said the online tool she co-created covers similar topics that are covered in face to face sessions.
“This was done very much in consultation with women with breast cancer,” she said.
“We went and met with a lot of women, did a series of focus groups to work out what are the most commonly experienced issues that come up for them and then we ended up creating a series of topics, or modules, around those commonly experienced issues.”
“So, some of them might be about communicating with their medical team or navigating the process of diagnosis and what will come up for them and what treatments they might want to choose.”
“Some of them might be on the common physical symptoms that they might be experiences, the emotional distress, body image changes and also navigating issues with family and friends is a big one too and transitioning into survivorship.”
Dr Beatty said the online modules provide strategies and activities to help target symptoms and help to improve their mental health.
What Online Mental Health Tools Are Available?
Dr Beatty is the co-creator of Finding My Way.
Finding my way is an online self-help coping program that offers information, suggestions and support for women and men who have recently been diagnosed with a cancer being treated with the aim of cure.
It was developed as part of a clinical trial for anyone who was currently going through cancer treatment or had been diagnosed in the past six months.
“Anyone with a diagnosis can just log on and start the program.”
“It’s a very simple registration process, you just have to create an account and you’ll get directed to the initial welcome video which will guide you through how to use the program.
“Because it is actually targeting not just a psychological disorder, but it is targeting some of the most commonly experienced issues, there’s going to be something in there for everybody, you don’t have to have depression or anxiety diagnosed by a GP or some else to benefit from the program.”
Listen to the podcast
Clinical Psychologist Dr Lisa Beatty explains what online mental health help is available for breast cancer patients & what the benefits are of using breast cancer patient online tools.
Why Do People Choose Online Mental Health Support?
Dr Beatty said there are a number of reasons why someone would choose to access online support for their mental health.
“Geography definitely is a huge barrier and some services simply don’t have face to face programs, but we definitely know that there’s still unfortunately a big stigma around mental health,” she said.
“We also know that screening is not routinely done yet, even though there is increasing recognition of the importance of it.”
“But screening for anxiety, distress, depression, isn’t routinely done and even when it is, there are many people out there that just don’t feel comfortable going to see someone face to face and actually have a preference for trying to be able to sort through things on their own.”
Dr Beatty said through qualitative feedback, they found using their online tool was a positive first step for those struggling through their diagnosis.
“It was that useful first step that broke down that barrier and patients were more comfortable to go and seek help when it was needed.”
“But for a lot of people they also found that they got enough that they needed out of the program itself, that it actually was the thing that stopped them from needing to go on to additional face to face support.”
If you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health throughout your diagnosis, talk to your treatment team or GP about your mental health options.