Cancer patients say a lack of mental health support is leaving them frightened, isolated and depressed.

In a survey for the Mental Health Foundation Scotland (MHFS) many said they were not offered any help dealing with the psychological effects of a cancer diagnosis.

Recovered patients also said they had been unprepared for the “cliff edge” of treatment coming to an end. The expectation that recovery meant they could just get “back to normal” was often far from the reality, they said.

The concerns are raised in a new report from the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland, which is calling for counselling to be offered for all patients. In reality, the charity says, half of Scots cancer patients receive no mental health support whatsoever.

However patients confirmed that cancer was not just a “physical” illness.

Half of the service users interviewed by the charity said they had reached an emotional “false summit” at the end of their treatment. The psychological distress created by cancer was unexpected for many, who left clinical settings having undergone life-changing cancer treatment but without further support.

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Some found their life had changed and they were unable to return to their happy previous existence. Others lived in terror of a recurrence, viewing every new symptom as a possible return of their cancer.

One in three people with cancer will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorders before, during or after treatment, MHFS said. Meanwhile the diagnosis, symptoms and the treatments involved can have a significant emotional impact on patients and their relatives.

In interviews carried out for the charity, 49 per cent of participants said they had not been offered any support or advice about how to look after their mental wellbeing from the NHS, while two thirds said they had not been told about potential mental health problems after their treatment.

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Survivors of cancer described feeling as though they had “fallen off a cliff edge” when clinical care ended, and said the sudden loss of support had left them feeling isolated and abandoned when support was most needed.

Asked what would help, patients called for counselling, better communication from health services and better access to information. Nearly a third said support groups with other sufferers would have helped.

MHFS said support should be available at all stages from diagnosis to treatment and recovery or palliative care. But the charity said the existing support network for Scottish patients was patchy and inconsistent while research into links between mental health and cancer has been very limited.

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Lee Knifton, Head of Mental Health Foundation Scotland said: “Cancer is not just a physical illness, it can have a profound psychological impact. Too often people are left in the dark about cancer’s impact on mental health.” He said the ‘false summit’ for those who completed treatment was an example of the lack of adequate support.

“The post-treatment phase of cancer is an especially volatile time for people’s mental health, yet people receive the least support at this stage,” he said. “Once treatment is finished, many people struggle to return to normal. If support is offered effectively at an early stage it can prevent anxiety and depression developing into severe, clinical conditions.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that all cancer patients receive the best possible treatment and care, including for their mental wellbeing. We encourage any efforts to raise awareness of support available and services which we and partner agencies provide.

“Through our £100m cancer strategy, we are investing £9 million over 5 years to support access to health and social care services during and after treatment.

“Our 10-year Mental Health Strategy, backed by investment of £150 million over five years, sets out how we can improve early intervention and ensure better access to services.”