Young people dealing with a parent or sibling’s cancer are three to six times more likely to face mental health issues like depression and anxiety than their peers, according to CanTeen research published online in Psycho-Oncology.
The study also found that young people were most in need of more information about their family member’s cancer and treatment, with other unmet needs including time out away from cancer, emotional support and support from friends and other young people.
“Every year, another 21,000 young people aged 12-24 are confronted with the terrifying news that their parent has cancer,” said lead author Dr Pandora Patterson, General Manager of Research and Youth Cancer Services at CanTeen.
“They tend to feel incredibly isolated and alone, but often don’t acknowledge their own need for support. Many are focused on their family member’s cancer and don’t want to add to the burden with their feelings of anxiety or fear.”
“In reality, young people dealing with a close family member’s cancer are three to six times more likely to experience high levels of psychological distress than their peers, which can lead to mental health issues like depression or anxiety.
“CanTeen has a range of support services that have been developed to specifically meet the needs identified by young people through this study, other CanTeen research and our experience of working directly with young people for more than thirty years.
“Through CanTeen, young people can get youth-friendly information, connect with others their age who are in the same boat, get counselling and emotional support as well as the chance to just have some fun too,” Dr Patterson said.
The CanTeen study of 362 young people aged 12-24 found that 60% of those who had a parent with cancer and 57% of those who had a sibling with cancer were experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress compared to 9% among the general Australian population of 16-24 year-olds and 20% among 11-17 year-olds.
“Young people affected by a family member’s cancer are very unlikely to ask for help and are similarly often overlooked within the health system, which is understandably focused on the sick parent or sibling,” Dr Patterson added.
“That’s why we’re calling on the community to identify young people who might need support and help them connect with the vital services that CanTeen offers,” she said.
Paper: Patterson P, McDonald FEJ, White KJ, Walczak A, Butow PN. Levels of unmet needs and distress amongst adolescents and young adults (AYAs) impacted by familial cancer. Psycho-Oncology. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1002/pon.4421
More Information: For more information or to get support, visit canteen.org.au, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1800 835 932. Information resources for young people dealing with a parent or sibling’s cancer are available at canteen.org.au/resource.