Thursday, June 4, 2015

Health, Mental Health and Quality of Life

I went for a run last night; the first one I've been on in 10 days. A week and a half may not seem like a long time, but it's the longest I've gone without running since I finished chemo in 2013. And if you know me, you know that I have two keys to good mental health: running and writing.  (These are also common themes which I've touched on from time to time on Thinking Out Loud.)

But over the last 4-5 weeks, my running has been a bit sparse. I'd been having some minor GI issues that have finally worked themselves out. I'll spare you the details but they were minor enough that they didn't outwardly affect my daily life. Still, they were  persistent enough to get in my head. Not every day, not all the time, but enough to occasionally distract me and take me off my game. In a month overflowing with kids' appointments, lawn work, and busy work schedules, it gave me one more thing to think about when I was debating whether or not to squeeze in a run. 

The bottom line is that it's hard to stay mentally focused when you're physically not well. My chemo regimen was relatively light compared to others, and the burden on my mental state was similarly light. But for those going through long lasting cancer treatment, it's not just the anxiety of the prognosis, but also what the treatment is taking away that weighs on the mind and sinks the mood. Add in a good deal of idle time for the mind to wander and it's a dangerous recipe. 

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 16 million adults in the US, or just less than seven percent of American adults, had one major depressive episode in 2012. Given that there are about 1.7 million new cancer diagnoses in the U.S. each year (according to the American Cancer Society),  and millions living with cancer, I would imagine that there's a good overlap between the two statistics.

People in and around cancer often talk about quality of life. And that phrase often bothers me because I never can quite parse what it means. But whatever it is that defines quality of life, good mental health has to be part of the definition.