Approximately 25% of persons with cancer report symptoms that meet the diagnostic criteria for the most prevalent mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic minor depression, and adjustment disorder with depressed mood. This is two to four times the incidence found among the general population. To simply consider depression as “normal” precludes the possibility that some very good things can happen when patients are properly diagnosed and referred to a psychosocial program to be seen by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. Asking about a patient’s general mood or spirits needs to become as routine as asking about pain. While screening instruments can be very helpful, single questions are equally useful for identifying patients with this unmet need. Otherwise, patients remain feeling helpless or that their condition is hopeless, and this can easily spiral into despair and significantly worsened depression.
Key words: cancer, depression, psychosocial, supportive care, coping.