5 Reasons Why People With Mental Health Disorders Often Say They Would Rather Have Cancer

worse than cancer

Cancer. It’s one of the most dreaded words in the English language. It strikes fear in nearly all of us. It’s no wonder. The big “C” was the second leading cause of death in the U.S., according to 2019 statistics from the CDC. And depending on the type of cancer, treatment can involve painful surgeries and medications that have debilitating side effects. Despite this, many people suffering from psychiatric issues admit that they would rather have cancer than mental health problems.

Why would anyone prefer to have a horrible physical disease over a mental illness? As hard as it is to fathom, there are many reasons why psychiatric disorders are even worse than cancer.

As hard as it is to fathom, there are many reasons why psychiatric disorders are even worse than cancer. Click To Tweet

Here are 5 reasons why:

1. Feeling alone and isolated.

When you have cancer, family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues wrap themselves around you to offer support. People show up at your doorstep with homecooked meals. Parents offer to drive your kids to school or to after-school activities. They do your grocery shopping or drive you to medical appointments. When you have mental health issues, such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder, people often shy away from you. They don’t know what to say or how to help, so they back off. This can leave you feeling like you’re completely on your own in your battle.

2. Feeling ashamed.

No one is shamed for having cancer even though the disease is strongly linked to lifestyle habits. Conversely, in our society, there is a stigma attached to having psychiatric disorders. In fact, many people with mental health issues say the shame and ostracism they experience is worse than the psychiatric disorder itself, according to research in The Lancet. If you’re anxious or depressed, people may tell you to “get over it.” If you have ADD/ADHD, they may push you to “try harder” to concentrate or stay focused. Can you imagine someone telling you to “get over” cancer, or to “try harder” to make it go away? When others make you feel like you’re to blame for mental health issues, it makes you feel even more helpless and hopeless. No one should be shamed for panic disorders, addictions, schizophrenia, or any other mental or behavioral issue.

3. Fear of consequences at work prevents treatment.

Although changes at work can follow a cancer diagnosis, they don’t typically prevent people from seeking treatment for the disease. When mental illness is the issue, however, fears about potential workplace discrimination can get in the way of treatment. Approximately half of American workers are apprehensive to talk about mental health problems in the workplace, according to a 2019 poll by the American Psychiatric Association. More than one-third of are concerned that if they seek treatment for mental health issues, they may face consequences, such as being fired. These fears keep many people from getting the psychiatric help they need.

4. Conventional psychiatry diagnoses conditions with no biological information.

Getting a cancer diagnosis often involves a battery of tests, such as bloodwork, genetic testing, advanced imaging (such as CT or MRI), and surgical biopsy. This leads to a high level of accuracy in the diagnosis, subtyping, and staging of the disease. Not so in traditional psychiatry. Most mental healthcare providers continue to make diagnoses based on symptom clusters alone—the same way Abraham Lincoln was diagnosed with “melancholia” over 150 years ago. This leads to alarming rates of misdiagnosis and keeps you from getting to the root cause of your symptoms. For example, by the time people visit Amen Clinics, they have already received an average of 4.2 diagnoses. This is why it’s important to visit a psychiatric clinic that tests and evaluates biological health in conjunction with psychological health. At Amen Clinics, a comprehensive evaluation may include brain SPECT imaging, bloodwork, and additional testing as needed.

5. Traditional psychiatry uses cookie-cutter treatments.

Advances in cancer research, diagnosis, and care mean that patients can receive targeted treatments for their type of cancer. Unfortunately, in conventional psychiatry, most providers continue to take a one-size-fits-all approach to treat mental health conditions. This often involves antidepressants for depression, anti-anxiety pills for anxiety disorders, and stimulants for ADD/ADHD. Although these medications may work for some people, they can make others worse. Prior to coming to Amen Clinics, people have tried an average of 5 medications without getting relief from their symptoms. Finding the most effective treatment plan for your needs depends on an accurate diagnosis and is the key to getting well.

When you consider these issues, it’s easier to understand how someone could say they would choose cancer over depression, anxiety, or some other mental health condition. For people with this perspective, getting a proper diagnosis thanks to brain imaging and a comprehensive evaluation can lead to a treatment plan that helps overcome all of these factors so healing can begin.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I have been diagnosed with Disorganized Schizophrenia and Major Depression. There is stigma in the public. I have good days and bad days.

    Comment by Rich Bennett — November 4, 2021 @ 12:21 PM

  2. What is upsetting is that insurance and clinics will cover all sorts of tests and treatments for physical illness such as cancer even if you cannot afford it, but with mental health the same is not true. If you are not financially well off or have no insurance, though the testing and imaging and help may be there, you or your loved ones will continue to slip through the cracks unable to utilize such help and continue to suffer for lack of money. This isn’t right. It’s like throwing someone a life preserver but they cannot reach it. These types of treatment should be available for people who can’t afford it as well, not just the well off because people with mental illness and their families are usually considered low income. Then where is their hope, their help?

    Comment by Susan Reil — November 4, 2021 @ 3:55 PM

  3. Good day. I find that the title/subject of this article is a loaded statement and in itself somewhat disturbing. Until now I have never heard of someone with mental illness stating they would rather have cancer. I interact with many mental health sufferers. Cancer is at times a death sentence and is much more debilitating, invasive and expensive to treat than mental health issues. I could imagine someone saying that in the throes of depression or mental health crises but not in a healthy frame of mind which is a reality for many with mental illness who obtain effective treatment. There are very many persons with mental illness who are successfully on remission and who lead happy, productive lives.

    Comment by Michael — November 5, 2021 @ 7:25 AM

  4. It’s very true not all mentally ill individuals feel as bad as others and don’t relate to this but they may not be as ill as those of us who feel at times cancer would be easier. I have heard this statement many times by those who are simply wondering how they can make it one more day suffering through the struggle of mental illness. They can’t get out of bed just like someone with a physical illness but yet they feel shame or looked at as lazy. This is a silent illness that is so very miss understood by those who have not walked in there shoes.

    Comment by Laurie — November 6, 2021 @ 2:25 AM

  5. I understand where Michael is coming from, but I do not think it’s necessarily about people with mental illness saying they would rather have cancer, but more of wishing they would have the same support as someone with a disease that people “understand”. What most people cannot see or fully understand is what is going on in our brains. I have a coworker who has been battling cancer, and though I am impressed with how she is handling everything, I would not want to be in her shoes. However, it brings a “twinge” of “I wish I was understood and supported that well.” The other thought that comes to mind is that “I wish I could share my struggle without people treating me like I am just making excuses.” I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a very long time, and some days feel and are unbearable. However, it is not something that many people understand (whether primary care doctors, insurance, coworkers, some friends or even family). They have said things such as “just get over it” or “just move on, you will be fine” … and those aren’t even when I have my really bad days. When I am sick, work doesn’t understand and treats me like I am an inconvenience, and I sometimes get underhanded comments that make me feel even worse. But when my ill coworker calls in sick, the comments are “She is so tough. It’s perfectly okay she needs the day off”, and the positive continues. She is amazing and an inspiration, without doubt! It would just be nice to know that people with mental illness (of any kind and any “severity”) could get the same encouragement, support, and understanding.

    Comment by Alisha — November 6, 2021 @ 6:18 AM

  6. Having had cancer twice along with the undercurrents of depression during both I resonate with all of the above comments. I am among the blessed to have been cured of the cancer, but have found treatments for depression totally inadequate for the gut-body and brain realities. I have found that even just the word “depression” is a conversation stopper which makes the isolation behind the eyeballs feel even worse than what it is. The stigmas around mental illness make it painful to be “one of them” but enlightening about humanity. Thought leaders are actually beginning to understand the root causes of trauma, shame, and anger and making their resources available on the internet at little or no cost. I have found them more helpful than any of the therapists I counseled with. Never give up!

    Comment by Orla Nelson — November 7, 2021 @ 8:08 PM

  7. I just had a breast cancer scare and to be completely honest it didn’t even phase me …. I’ve suffered with mental illness all my life…In my personal opinion it’s worse than any physical ailment….Time for it to be treated as such.

    Comment by Joanne Zimmer — November 11, 2021 @ 9:37 AM

  8. If I died from cancer, instead of suicide, I’d bring my family less shame. In fact, no shame.

    Comment by Louise — November 2, 2022 @ 7:05 PM

  9. I have said multiple times I’d rather have cancer. I’ve been diagnosed with OCD. It took so many years to get a proper diagnosis that it’s had time to infect every aspect of my being. I am so lost right now and I feel misunderstood. I don’t even understand myself half the time. It’s so convoluted, I’d rather have cancer. At least treatment wouldn’t be so abstract, I’d have support from the community and I’d have a clearer plan on how to get better. I hate this. So, Michael, you’re wrong!

    Comment by Jessie — July 7, 2023 @ 4:02 PM

  10. If I had a major physical illness – cancer, whatever – I would be surrounded by love, encouragement, support. My friend's husband recently died of a brain tumor. Hundreds of people sent words of encouragement, donated to gofundme to the point that there are NO remaining medical bills and she has several thousand left over to help her begin her new life. ZERO emotional or financial support for my major depression. People with life threatening illness are recognized as being SO brave if they can get out of bed and walk to a chair. When that's all I can accomplish in a day, I'm lazy. Nobody cares how hard it is to make it through a single day. When (maybe if) I die from major depression it will bring shame. Do you have any idea how hard it is to figure out where to hide your own body? My friend is a brave widow for each day she carries on.
    SO many support groups for major illness, especially cancer; and it's free. If I want to attend a support group I have to pay. That's on top of all of the out-of-pocket expenses – insurance covers very little or nothing.
    I've watched loved ones deal with and die of cancer. It isn't pretty. But at least they have support. At least someone can get relief through medications when the pain becomes too severe. I have no relief from the pain. I have to buck it up, keep a stiff upper lip. Put on a happy face so I don't upset anyone. The emotional pain is felt physically. It is agonizing. When you can't stop the physical pain caused by the emotional pain, death becomes a beacon of hope.

    Comment by Wickett — July 12, 2023 @ 7:18 AM

  11. To Michael. Having had both cancer and serious depression and now some cognitive decline I can tell you I’d rather have cancer anytime. You are usually supported and shown compassion but I feel I must keep my depression hid from family and friends. No one wants to hear it and as my cognition declines then death is something to consider. I’d rather be dying of cancer.

    Comment by Michele — July 16, 2023 @ 11:13 AM

  12. When you have cancer you can tell people how you feel. If you tell people about depression and they're somewhat compassionate they will listen a couple of times then they tell you to get over it or it's too upsetting to her you talk about it. No way to win.

    Comment by Wickett — July 23, 2023 @ 8:43 AM

  13. The way you concluded your post with a call to action really inspired me to take action on what I've learned. I'm excited to implement your suggestions and see the positive impact they can make.

    Comment by Sammprada CancerCare — August 14, 2023 @ 4:58 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us