About Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Support

UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes currently provide care to those diagnosed with or at risk of gynecologic cancer as well as individuals diagnosed with gastrointestinal, head and neck, hematologic, and lung cancers.

Our team of care providers, including an oncology psychiatrist and a clinical social worker, help patients and their loved ones manage distressing emotions that may arise as a result of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, including anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness, confusion, fear, guilt, sadness, shock, and other overwhelming feelings and experiences.

Who should receive social, emotional, and mental health support

All cancer patients and loved ones involved in their care should consider receiving support from the time of diagnosis through treatment and beyond regardless of age, stage, or prognosis.

Our oncology psychiatrist and clinical social worker tailor care to the specific needs of each patient, which may change throughout their cancer experience. The goal of this support is to help patients achieve comfort, capability, and calm, and to live as well as possible despite the stress of a cancer diagnosis.

What social, emotional, and mental health support looks like

Our social, emotional, and mental health providers spend time listening to patients and their loved ones to better understand their goals and help them adjust to the cancer journey. Depending on a patient’s needs and preferences, they may meet with a provider one-on-one, with their partner or family, or in a group of individuals with the same cancer diagnosis.

This support is designed to help address issues that may arise with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, such as feeling isolated, family conflict, difficulty with treatment decision-making, fear about the disease, spiritual or existential concerns, accepting changes to appearance, struggles to cope day-to-day, grief, changes to one’s sexual health, communication troubles, concerns with the cultural appropriateness of one’s care, or lack of support from family, friends, or work.

Patients and their loved ones may also experience distress related to practical aspects of cancer care, such as concerns related to finances, maintaining employment, staying in school, coordinating logistics to medical appointments and procedures, cultural or language differences, or help with daily activities. A cancer diagnosis may also trigger or worsen preexisting conditions, such as mood disorders, personality disorders, substance use, panic attacks, dementia, severe anxiety, or major depression.

Our social, emotional, and mental health providers coordinates care with the patient’s medical oncologist, advanced practice provider, and other providers so that the entire care team is aware of the patient’s needs and preferences. Our care team works with patients to address all of their needs to include physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.

What social, emotional, and mental health support is not

To access social, emotional, and mental health support, a patient does not need to have a mental illness diagnosis. These supportive services can help anyone impacted by a cancer diagnosis at any point during a cancer journey.

Social, emotional, and mental health support is not a quick fix. To address the complex nature of emotions, concerns, and existential issues, particularly related to cancer, ongoing support may be needed. Our care team can work with patients before, during, and after treatment to ensure they have the tools needed to face a cancer journey.

Social, emotional, and mental health support does not necessarily involve medication unless a trained medical professional determines with the patient that counseling, talk therapy, and other interventions are not sufficient. When patients need medications for symptoms, such as severe anxiety or depression, the care team works with patients and their loved ones to determine what treatment works best for them.