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Depression and brain tumours

9 in 10 people we spoke to said their emotional or mental health had been affected by a brain tumour diagnosis.

If you or a loved one is living with a brain tumour, it’s very natural to experience low moods or feeling depressed. It's important to remember that the low moods experienced by many people affected by a brain tumour will not become clinical depression."

For those that do, the symptoms and severity can differ from person to person, so you may not have the same problems as someone with a similar diagnosis and treatment plan.

What is depression?

Around 1 in 5 people in the UK suffer from depression at some point in their lives.

It’s important to remember that depression is not a sign of weakness and is nothing to be ashamed of. Like many physical conditions, depression is an illness which can usually be managed or treated, if dealt with appropriately.

A brain tumour diagnosis is a major life event that can have a significant effect on your mood and emotional wellbeing. As a result it's normal to feel distressed and overwhelmed. When these feelings linger on for weeks and months or affect your everyday life, they could be a sign of depression. 

Most people don't experience depression in exactly the same way. Mild depression may cause you to feel relatively low for a number of weeks and have no interest in what you usually enjoy.

However, moderate to severe depression may make it mentally and physically difficult to take part in your usual daily activities. Depression often involves deeper, more unpleasant periods of unhappiness that affect your daily life.

It can also cause you to have persistent negative thoughts that can range from expecting the worst in certain situations to a sense of hopelessness, or thoughts about death or suicide.

How are low moods different from depression?

With low moods, your feelings don’t usually prevent you from carrying out your daily activities, though they can make them harder to do and seem less worthwhile.

Making small changes to your life, to sort out some of what is distressing you, can help to improve your mood. This could be talking to someone about your problems, or just getting some more sleep.

Low moods usually pass over time - often lifting after a few days. However, if a low mood doesn’t go away, this can be a sign of depression.

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Track your journey with BRIAN

BRIAN’s quality-of-life tracker lets you monitor how you’ve been feeling and better understand your ups and downs. You can then share this with your loved ones and healthcare team to show them how they can best support you.

Track your journey with BRIAN

BRIAN is our trusted online app where you can track your experience, compare it with others who’ve been there and get the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

Download our BRIAN app on the App Store    Download our BRIAN app on Google Play

Click here to visit the BRIAN website

What are the signs of depression?

Symptoms of depression may vary from person to person, but can include:

  • low mood for most of the day
  • feeling fatigued or lacking in energy
  • feeling overly emotional or lacking emotion (apathy)
  • being unusually anxious, irritable or agitated
  • changes in appetite (eating less or eating more)
  • having difficulty focusing on tasks (concentrating) or making decisions
  • low mood for 2 or more weeks
  • having persistent negative thoughts
  • losing interest in the things you used to enjoy
  • sleeping for longer than usual, or having difficulty falling asleep
  • feeling less affectionate towards other people.

I felt no one got me or understood what I was going through. It was all a struggle. I wanted to press the rewind button to go back to the ‘old me’ and for everything to be like it was before.

Hannah Kinsell

Read Hannah's story

Hannah Kinsell, diagnosed with a grade 4 glioma in 2014

"From the start, I found my diagnosis difficult to process, and after two operations and gruelling chemotherapy, my mental health really suffered. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I was having panic attacks and felt a terrible sense of foreboding.

"I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling – not even my family - because I didn’t want to make them sad or worry more.

"What made it worse was that I didn’t think I would achieve my dreams or be the person I was meant to be. I didn’t realise I was depressed.

"Counselling and anti-depressants helped me adjust to the ‘new’ me, and my tumour is now stable. But I’ve also found it helps to talk to others who’ve faced the same challenges – it stops you getting lost in your thoughts. I don’t feel so weird or alone now.

"I still have good and bad days, but I focus on the positive: my family, I’m in remission and how much I’ve achieved.

"I’m now more hopeful for the future – I’m a stronger person and able to accept myself for who I am. I feel more like ‘me’ again."

Join one of our Online Support Communities for more stories and tips about coping with a brain tumour diagnosis from people who know what you're going through.

Low mood and depression in family and friends

Depression affects carers and loved ones, as well those people living with a brain tumour diagnosis.

If you’re helping care for someone with a brain tumour, you may have a lot less time to spend on yourself, see friends and do the things you used to enjoy. You may also have to give up work for a period of time. 

These would be major changes in anyone’s life, affecting their emotional wellbeing in the short or long term.

For help and support, check out our resources for carers.

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What causes low mood and depression?

The tumour itself

The brain controls all aspects of our personality. In some cases, a growing tumour can press against the parts of the brain that regulate mood, causing unusual mood swings and, in some cases, depression

The shock of receiving a diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis of a brain tumour can be devastating. Your expectations, your way of life and your reality, can be threatened instantly. You can go from feeling mentally secure and content with life to feeling fearful and uncertain.

Experiencing such feelings is natural following a brain tumour diagnosis and, in some people, can contribute to the onset of depression. 

By affecting your quality of life

A brain tumour can cause some forms of physical or cognitive disability, which can limit what you’re able to do and how you socialise.

For example, if you have difficulty moving around due to a brain tumour, you may leave the house less than you used to, or be unable to do the physical activities you used to enjoy before your diagnosis.

It may be that you’re no longer able to work, so your finances are affected. This can obviously cause much stress, leading to low mood or depression.

Or you could be suffering from fatigue (extreme tiredness), with everything becoming an effort and the natural effect on your mood.

What else can cause depression?

There is no one cause for depression, but several factors have been found to increase the chance of developing depression. These include:

  • having had depression in the past
  • not having other people to talk to
  • taking certain medication which increases the chance of developing depression

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  • having a family history of depression
  • having to deal with a lot of difficult situations at once.

Coping with depression

If you are affected by a brain tumour and feel you cannot cope with your current situation, you can call The Brain Tumour Charity's Support & Information Line.

If you need someone to talk to outside office hours, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.

If your feelings are relatively mild, you may be able to self-help by making a few changes, but knowing when you may need professional help or support is important.

Coping with depression

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Join one of our our Online Support Communities for more tips about coping with a brain tumour diagnosis, from people who truly understand what you're going through.

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Get support

If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.

Share your experiences and help create change

By taking part in our Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys and sharing your experiences, you can help us improve treatment and care for everyone affected by a brain tumour.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

Support and Information Services

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

You can also join our active online community - Join our online support groups.