'More Important Now' For Patients with Cancer to Focus on Mental Health During COVID-19

As stress and anxiety have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, one expert notes how it’s important for patients with cancer to pay attention to their mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress and anxiety throughout the world and, according to one expert, it is even more important now that patients with cancer focus on their mental health as there is decreased access to outlets that can help.

“We need to make sure that we are staying healthy and doing the things that we need to do,” Dr. Scott A. Irwin, director of the patient and family support program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in an interview with CURE®.

Irwin also discussed the role a patient’s family, friends or significant other could play in helping them reduce their stress and anxiety both during and after social distancing is lifted.


I have suggested to patients that it is even more important now to focus on their mental health in a time where we don't have outlets to help with mental health.

Healthy eating, good sleeping, getting exercise are all great treatments for anxiety. We need to make sure that we are still doing those things. We need to make sure that we are staying healthy and doing the things that we need to do.

The first thing that friends, family, significant others can do to help patients with cancer, whether we are in this challenging time with COVID or any other time, is asking what the patient wants, or needs, or how they can be helpful. It's not helpful to say, tell me if you need anything or call me if you need anything, because most patients won't. Actively forming a plan and checking in with how you can be helpful is the best thing to do. For example, some patients really crave being social, being around their friends, trying to keep their life as normal as possible and find that friends fall by the wayside either because they're afraid to be around the person, or it is hard for them to see somebody that's sick or a good friend that is going through this or a lot of the times they just don't know how to talk to the person or what to say, so instead of having a normal conversation, which is what the person would want, they tend to avoid the person.

On the flip-side, there are people that have family and friends that just want to do things for them and get them food and check in once a day and it becomes overwhelming for the patients and they don't know how to say 'I need a break' or thank you for the help, but I really need some time to myself right now. Or, thank you for the help but it would be better if we checked in once a week instead of once a day because it's overwhelming or, 'I don't want to talk about this, I just want to go on as if life is normal when I'm not in the cancer center.

So, everybody is different, everybody interacts with their social support group differently and the most important thing is to talk about how the person with cancer wants to communicate, how they would like to be helped and how they would like to be asked for help.