Study shows cancer patients benefit from integrated mental health care as part of treatment

Study shows cancer patients benefit from integrated mental health care as part of treatment

Navigating a serious health diagnosis, such as cancer, can be an emotionally overwhelming experience. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has found that integrating mental health treatment into oncology care can significantly reduce the likelihood of patients ending up in the hospital. Published in “The Lancet,” the study builds upon previous research that has shown a strong connection between poor mental health and higher healthcare utilization.

The researchers at Pitt developed a treatment model where cancer patients received mental health care from a therapist or social worker who was part of their oncology treatment team. This integrated approach was compared to another group of patients who were referred out for therapy. The results showed that those who received integrated mental health treatment were much less likely to visit the emergency room or require hospitalization.

Patients who received integrated mental health treatment underwent cognitive behavioral therapy, focusing on relaxation techniques and changing core beliefs about themselves or their environments. This group reported lower rates of depression, fatigue, and pain compared to patients who only received therapy referrals.

Lead author Jennifer Steel specializes in developing interventions to manage cancer-related symptoms and improve the quality of life for oncology patients. In addition to the behavioral health treatment, Steel believes that the increased contact with the care team through weekly therapy visits played a significant role in patient outcomes, as mental health providers can notice when a patient’s health is declining and intervene promptly.

Steel recommends that cancer centers consider implementing this integrated model, as unplanned medical care is not only costly for patients but also for health systems. She hopes to further study if factors such as age or gender play a role in the effectiveness of integrated mental health care for cancer patients.

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