Life after cancer: Transforming the post-treatment experience

The intersection of mental health and chronic disease

Roughly 20% of people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. At the same time, 45% are living with at least one chronic disease.1 The potential for overlap is significant — especially for those living with cancer. Some studies estimate the rates of depression and anxiety among people treated for cancer are at least double that of the general public.2

The most common mental health challenges faced by people living with cancer are major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. But there are many reasons why they can’t always get the support they need to address these challenges:

  • The dual stigma of having both cancer and a mental illness may prevent them from seeking support entirely.
  • For equity-denied populations, the barriers are even greater. For example, resources promoting mental health services are often created with a general audience in mind, so they may not be culturally safe or applicable to everybody.

How the Mental Health Commission of Canada supports the mental health of people living with cancer

Breaking down the silos of mental health and chronic disease

How can healthcare practitioners and decision-makers prevent, screen and treat co-occurring chronic diseases and mental illnesses? After assessing more than 800 research documents, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) published a scoping review summarizing its recommendations, with the goal of getting the right information into the hands of people who can make a real difference in policy, programs, services and research.

This marked the first time the MHCC was able to explore the connections between mental health and chronic disease. To make the review’s findings more accessible, two brief factsheets were also developed, including one focused on mental health and cancer that presented the data in a highly visual, at-a-glance format.

Building on a strong foundation

The MHCC’s work on this topic didn’t end with the scoping review. That report inspired a further study on managing mental health issues among people with chronic diseases (like cancer) that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection.

In addition, the MHCC published an article in its monthly newsletter that provides a firsthand account of how a clinical psychiatrist battled major depression and breast cancer at the same time — and the stark contrast in the support she received for those two diseases.

We do nothing in isolation, so it’s important we stay connected to other pan-Canadian organizations like the Partnership. We have supported each other’s work at the intersection of mental health and chronic disease, and even sat on each other’s advisory committees. Our joint efforts on survivorship will serve as a model for future collaboration.

Mental Health Commission of Canada

See how Karima overcame her anxiety about her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis.

  1. Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada releases new Health of Canadians report to summarize the current state of health in the country [Internet]. Statistics Canada; 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from:
  2. Mental Health Commission of Canada. Towards better physical and mental health: Preventing and managing concurrent mental and physical conditions — A scoping and rapid realist review [Internet]. MHCC; 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from:
  3. Mental Health Commission of Canada. Changing directions, changing lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada [Internet]. MHCC; 2012 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from:
  4. Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Experiences of cancer patients in transition study: Emotional challenges [Internet]. The Partnership; 2018 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: