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Low mood and depression after a breast cancer diagnosis

Lots of people experience low mood after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Find out more about coping with these feelings and getting more support.

1. Low mood and depression

Most people experience some low mood and sadness after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Low mood usually improves after a little while, but if it doesn’t then you could have depression.

Depression is a common condition that can have a broad range of symptoms, from feeling continuously low in spirits to having no will to live.

2. What causes depression?

Some people become depressed because of the impact of breast cancer, such as:

  • Dealing with the shock of diagnosis
  • Ongoing physical effects
  • Uncertainty about the future

After treatment ends it can be made worse by:

  • Missing the reassurance of being seen by your treatment team
  • People close to you expecting you to carry on with the life you had before breast cancer
  • Feeling isolated
  • Losing your sense of identity
  • Your self-confidence having been affected
  • Worries about breast cancer coming back

Find out more about adjusting to life after treatment ends.

Depression is often a normal response to trauma and a way of coping, but as you adjust to what has happened, you will gain energy and your mood should improve.

3. When to ask for support

Talk to your treatment team, breast care nurse or GP if you or the people close to you are worried because you have any of the following signs:

  • Loss of enjoyment and interest in everyday things and experiences
  • Loss of interest in your appearance
  • Persistent thoughts such as ‘I can’t be bothered’ or ‘What’s the point?’
  • Withdrawing from others (not going out or socialising)
  • Feeling more tearful and irritable than usual
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Feeling very low in mood or suicidal

Your treatment team or GP can refer you to a counsellor, psychiatrist or psychologist for help and support.

Some people find it hard to seek professional advice, but it can help to relieve these symptoms and allow you to regain control of your life.

4. Support and treatment for depression

Talking therapies

Professional support such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help. 

Your treatment team or GP can direct you to services that may help.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant drugs may be recommended to treat symptoms of depression. 

It usually takes up to six weeks before you notice the effects and start to feel an improvement in mood, although it may take longer to feel the full benefits. 

Antidepressants can be an extra support during a particularly difficult time.

Talking to other people with breast cancer

Joining a cancer support group to meet others with a similar experience may be helpful. You can search for support groups near you on the Macmillan Cancer Support website.

Our Someone Like Me service - see further below - can put you in touch with a trained volunteer who has been through similar experiences to you. They are there to listen to your concerns and share their experiences. You can talk with them over the phone or by email if you prefer.

Talking to our breast care nurses

You can speak to one of our breast care nurses by:

  • Calling our Helpline on 0808 800 6000
  • Using our Ask Our Nurses email service (see the bottom of this page for how to get in touch)
  • Asking any questions you like through the Ask Our Nurses section of our forum

Online support

These organisations provide information and support to help you cope with depression:

  • Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day, for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You can call them on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • The NHS website has information about depression as well as information and support for your mental health
  • The Mental Health Foundation has information on talking therapies

Coping emotionally

We've got more information to help you with coping emotionally after a diagnosis of breast cancer

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in February 2022. The next planned review begins in February 2024.

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