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Depression and brain tumours

If you, or someone close to you, is living with a brain tumour, it’s very natural to experience depression or low mood.

A brain tumour diagnosis is a major life event ,which 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, they could be a sign of depression.

Whether you're struggling with low mood or suffering from depression, it's important to know that there are strategies to help you get through it.

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. 

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.

What’s the difference between low mood and depression?

We all have times when our mood is low. Any stressful event, such as difficulties at work, bereavement, relationship or financial issues, sleep problems and illness, can leave us feeling down, often due to a feeling of lack of control over our situation.

A low mood can include:

  • sadness
  • feeling anxious or panicky
  • worry
  • tiredness
  • low self-esteem
  • frustration
  • anger.

With low moods, these 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 stressing 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.

What is depression?

Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time and affects your daily life. It often involves deeper, more unpleasant periods of unhappiness. 

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.

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 do I know if I'm depressed?

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 persistent negative thoughts
  • low mood for 2 or more weeks
  • losing interest in the things you used to enjoy
  • having difficulty focusing on tasks (concentrating) or making decisions
  • sleeping for longer than usual, or having difficulty falling asleep
  • feeling less affectionate towards other people.

Why am I feeling low or depressed?

A brain tumour diagnosis can affect a person in a number of ways that could potentially lead to some form of low mood or depression.

Through 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. 

Through a tumour’s effect on the brain 

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.

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

Low mood and depression in family and friends

Depression can affect the person with a brain tumour and also those who care for them.

If you’re caring for someone with a brain tumour, you may have a lot less time to spend on yourself, seeing friends and doing 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 more help and support, check out our resources for carers.

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:

Information and Support line

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

support@thebraintumourcharity.org

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

You can also join our active online community on Facebook - find out more about our groups.