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Virtually everyone knows someone who has battled cancer. If there once was a stigma about revealing a cancer diagnosis, that stigma is, thankfully, gone.
There may be another stigma, though, associated with the diagnosis of a life-threatening disease: mental-health issues that are a by-product of dealing with the disease. It’s an inextricably related issue. Someone contracts a disease and all treatment and attention are on the physical ailment. But simultaneously, the person must deal with a variety of feelings that are a natural reaction to the diagnosis: depression, despair, loneliness.
Gabe Howard, in the podcast Inside Mental Health, dealt with the subject in an interview with Bershan Shaw. Shaw is a motivational speaker, business coach, author and entrepreneur who is appearing on The Real Housewives of New York City. Howard says, “After being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, Bershan’s experience with depression and loneliness led her to look to many places to find the answers and support she needed.”
In the interview, Howard gets to the heart of the matter quickly, asking Shaw, “Did anyone address your mental health after that diagnosis or was the entire focus only on your physical health?”
Shaw responds, “I have to tell you, no one really addressed my mental health. It was more physical. It was like, OK, exercise, eat right. But I was going through loneliness, depression, feeling like no one could understand me because they told me I was going to die. So it was a small percentage of a chance that I would live. So I went down a downward spiral and I didn’t know how to get out of the hole.”
Shaw learned to separate the physical ailment from the mental and emotional response. “Breast cancer is what happened,” she says. “Mental health is what you go through. And what I realized is that, wow, so many people when I speak about mental health, so many people were coming up to me and saying, you know what, I tried to kill myself. You know what? I’m depressed. I’m bipolar.”
Shaw’s story is a compelling example of how expressing your thoughts and feelings about your mental health is a significant step toward healing.