Why It Was Easier To Disclose My Cancer Diagnosis Than My Mental Health Diagnosis

*This blog post was originally published on September 22, 2014 on nadhahassen.com. It has been updated and edited for Thyroid Transitions. 

You just need to be positive.

What do you have to be depressed about? 

It's all in your head.

In so many ways, my cancer has been easier to talk about than my mental health. Cancer is something that has been gaining attention over the years. There are fundraisers, there are runs, there is media attention and research is being funded. Cancer is something "tangible" and "real". There are cells that are malignant, we seem to accept this fact fairly easily. Consequently, it is easier to segue from talking about cancer into talking about mental health. Because someone would have to have very little empathy and tact to tell a cancer patient that being depressed is "not a real thing".

Well today, I'm going to make the bold (not really) statement, that it is NEVER okay to undermine or belittle mental health. Even when someone doesn't have cancer.

Sometimes, there are social and external factors involved but, there can also be chemical processes involved. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to educate yourself about mental health and get the facts. Just like my thyroid cancer is one facet of cancer, depression is one aspect of mental health. Our emotional well-being - how we think, feel and behave is important. It can affect how we function and behave with other people.

Just like there isn't a universal cure for cancer, there isn't a cure for depression. This is why it saddens and frustrates me when myths are perpetuated and when the impact of mental health is undermined. Cancer is a medical and legitimate health concern. Depression is a medical and legitimate health concern. Sometimes, psychotherapy is necessary. Sometimes, medication is necessary. And if necessary, people need to be able to reach out for this help. Most importantly, people need to not be judged.

I have personal experience with mental health issues, from even before my cancer diagnosis. It's just that I started sharing my experiences after my cancer diagnosis. Like many, I have faced challenges in silence. 

Of course, not everything needs to be shared. And there are different levels of sharing. For instance, if someone needs help, I would hope they can share this with someone who can support them and if needed, direct them to appropriate resources. However, when someone feels that they cannot speak up or confide in someone because of how people will perceive the information, because of what might be said about them or how they might be treated - that means there is a larger problem. This is why I say that cancer was, in many ways, the easier health issue to start talking about. But even with cancer, many people choose not to share the information. And that is absolutely their choice. But the key word here is "choice". If it is socially imposed that they not share, then that choice is taken away.

I do not know how or when we will get to a place where it is okay for people to be themselves, to feel like they do not have to battle invisible illnesses in silence. We are not there yet. All I know is that I am not alone. And that gives me courage enough to post this.

Telling A Depressed Person To Be Happy Is Like Telling Cancer Patients To Cure Themselves

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Nadha Hassen

Founder at Thyroid Transitions
Nadha is a health researcher, writer, consultant and thyroid wellness coach. A "thyroidless thriver", she supports women at all stages of their thyroid process. She is currently a PhD student and received her Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Toronto, specializing in Health Promotion.

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