As I pointed out in Part I, much of the early distress experienced by most individuals diagnosed with a serious or life threatening illness will subside a great deal once a treatment plan has been formulated or treatment has begun. Therefore, support from family, friends, and/or the treatment team is often all that is needed initially.
Unfortunately, not everyone finds the degree of relief I have described once they have more information or actually start treatment. Two important variables should determine what type of help might be needed at this time – severity of distress and duration or length of distress. Once all the plans have been put into action and the initial outcomes are known, distress probably should not be at a level that interferes with your ability to complete your daily responsibilities. If it does, the inability to function normally should be very short-lived (e.g. probably no more than a day or two) and probably brought about by complications or discouraging news.
As a rule of thumb, distress is too severe if your ability to perform your daily duties is compromised to the point that others are noticing or you think that you are not able to keep your life reasonably intact. If either of these sets of circumstances lasts for more than two weeks, on a more or less daily basis, there is likely to be a problem serious enough for an assessment by a professional. What type of professional you consult is a matter of personal preference which should be informed by your treatment team. Your doctors or nurses are likely to have referred other patients to mental health professionals and may have names that they highly recommend. Those people are likely to have demonstrated a good understanding of the types of medical issues you are facing and have been given a “thumbs up” by other patients who have seen them.
When you are suffering from extreme anxiety or depression which affects sleep, appetite, and ability to follow through with treatment or otherwise seems to be interfering with your recuperation, medication may be needed.
In my next piece I will explain types of treatment in some detail so that you will have an idea what to expect if treatment is needed.