How to get help

If you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, or if you are becoming anxious or depressed, it is important to get help. Different people can help you find support, such as:

  • your healthcare team at the hospital
  • your GP
  • online self-help services
  • local charities and organisations that offer counselling
  • private clinics offering therapy services.

If you have private health insurance, it may cover the cost of mental health support.

Support from Macmillan

Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can do the following:

Help from your healthcare team

Many people get a lot of emotional support from the hospital staff who take care of them during their treatment.

If you are having cancer treatment, you will have a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or key worker. They are often your main contact at the hospital. They can give you and your family information and emotional support.

They can help with concerns you feel you cannot talk to your cancer doctor about. They will also have details of local support groups and other organisations that may be able to help.

Help from your GP

Speaking to your GP can be the first step in getting support with your mental health. But talking about your feelings can be difficult. Before your appointment, try to plan what you want to say. It can help to write things down. Appointments are usually short, but planning ahead will help you get what you need from your GP.

When you are with your GP, tell them how you really feel. Focus on what you are most worried about. This will help them give you the most helpful advice or treatment.

You may want to take a family member or friend with you to the appointment. They can help you remember everything you want to discuss. After the appointment, they can also remind you what the doctor said. Some GPs are happy for you to record the discussion so you can listen to it later. Ask your GP if this is okay before you start.

Other healthcare professionals

There are many healthcare professionals who can help you cope with your feelings and emotions. Each has a different role, but usually you will only need the help of 1 or 2 of them. Your doctor may refer you to 1 of the following professionals: 

  • A counsellor

    Counsellors are trained to listen and help people talk through their problems. They will not give advice or answers, but they can help you find your own ways to solve problems.

  • A clinical psychologist

    Clinical psychologists are trained to understand what people think and feel, and how they behave. They can help you look at thoughts or patterns of behaviour that are causing you problems. This is helpful in stressful situations, such as coping with cancer. They can also help people with their relationships.

  • A psychiatrist

    Psychiatrists are doctors trained to diagnose and treat mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Some psychiatrists are specially trained in looking after the mental health of people with cancer.

  • A community psychiatric nurse

    Community psychiatric nurses are trained to help people live with all types of mental health problems.

    At the start, you may not feel comfortable talking about your feelings. But this should get easier. It is important to be open and honest with healthcare professionals. This will help you get the information and support that you need.

At the start, you may not feel comfortable talking about your feelings. But this should get easier. It is important to be open and honest with healthcare professionals. This will help you get the information and support that you need.

Talking therapies

Talking therapies involve talking to a trained therapist about your thoughts and feelings. They can help with anxiety and depression.

Types of talking therapies include:

We have more information about talking therapies.

Self-help and support groups

Joining a self-help or cancer support group can have many benefits, including:

  • gaining a sense of community and knowing that you are not alone
  • listening to and learning from the experiences of others
  • participating in activities to support your well-being
  • sharing common feelings and coping strategies
  • making new friends, being more confident and enjoying yourself.

Some groups are for people with a specific type of cancer. For example, there are breast cancer care groups and laryngectomy groups. There are also support groups for families and carers.

It may help to go along to see what the group is like before you decide to join. You might want to take someone with you.

What to expect at a support group

Each cancer support group is different. Some groups are made up of a few people who meet regularly at someone’s house. Others are much larger and might have a meeting room.

You can expect a warm welcome from someone who has been in the group for some time. You will be introduced to other members and have the chance to tell them about yourself. You do not have to talk about anything you do not want to talk about. It can take a few visits before you feel comfortable enough to talk about personal things.

Most groups provide training in listening skills for group leaders. This means they will be able to listen in a positive, caring way. Meetings could include an activity, a social event or a talk from a guest speaker.

You may be able to access support services through the group. These might include complementary therapies, counselling or bereavement support. Most groups are free. Some may charge for tea and biscuits, or accept donations for any support services they offer.

Contact the organiser if you have questions about how the group works. They can tell you:

  • what to expect
  • how big the group is
  • common discussion topics and activities.

How do I find a support group?

You can search for groups in your area or ask someone from your healthcare team. You can also call our cancer support specialists for free on 0808 808 00 00.

Life after Cancer is an organisation that can help you find support groups after cancer treatment.

There may be more than 1 group in your area. You can try different groups to find one that works for you.

Share your experience

Having cancer is a life-changing experience. When treatment finishes, many people find it helps to talk about it and share their thoughts, feelings and advice with other people.

Visit our Online Community to talk with people who are dealing with cancer and share your experience. Hearing about how you have coped, what side effects you had and how you managed them may help someone in a similar situation.

To find out more about sharing your experience, call our Supporter Care Team for free on 0300 1000 200.

Other things you can do

Focusing on your well-being can help you feel involved in your care and recovery. As well as improving your physical health it may also support your mental health.

Write down your feelings

Some people find it helps to write down how they are feeling. Keeping a diary, journal or online blog can be a way of expressing how you feel without having to talk about it. Some people like to write down things that went well in their day.

You might want to write down how you are feeling, but you may not be sure where to start. You can try using our Good days/Bad days tool. You can use this to write down what makes a day good or bad for you.

We all have days when both good and bad things happen. There is space to write any next steps to help you have more good days. Look at your lists and ask yourself:

  • What can I do to have more good days?
  • Is there anything I can do to make sure I have fewer bad days?

The thinking tool was written by people affected by cancer. You can find more tools, stories and help using the tools by visiting

Writing things down does not work for everybody. Some people prefer to paint, draw or play music.

Release tension

Tension can often be released by talking to people. We have more information about talking and the best ways to do this.

Sometimes you may feel like everything is getting too much for you. If you feel this way, try to be kind to yourself. It might help to get outdoors, go for a long walk, play music, or hit a pillow or cushion. Crying can also help release emotions. These things will not do anyone any harm and they may make you feel much better.

You could also express yourself through drawing, painting, playing music or another creative hobby. You might want to try complementary therapies such as massage or other touch therapies or movement therapy, such as yoga.

Make time to relax

One way of coping with stress is making time to relax. Doing things you enjoy and being with family or friends can help distract you from things you are worrying about. It can help you feel more positive. Making time for activities you enjoy can also help you relax. You may want to start a new hobby or try an activity you have always wanted to do.

There are relaxation techniques you can use to help you relax and cope with stress. These include meditation, yoga, regular physical activity and massages.

Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment. It uses techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and yoga to help you focus on what is happening at that time. It can help you change the way you think about things. This can help reduce stress and anxiety. You can search for mindfulness apps online. Paid apps such as Headspace and Calm, and free apps such as Healthy Minds Program can help.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) uses the techniques of mindfulness with some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you change how you think. MBCT was developed to support people in chronic pain and has been used in cancer support. MBCT is usually taught as an 8-week course, either in groups or individually. Some centres in the UK offer MBCT classes from the NHS. You can also learn MBCT on the Be Mindful website.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) also uses mindfulness. It focuses on accepting what you cannot control or change, while still doing things that will improve your quality of life.

Mindfulness classes are available from:

  • the NHS – ask your doctor about what is available in your area or at your hospital
  • Every Mind Matters – has a free mind plan along with tips to help deal with stress and anxiety
  • Mind – courses are available throughout England and Wales
  • Buddhist Centres – courses are available in England, Scotland and Wales
  • Aware – the national depression charity for Northern Ireland runs courses in mindfulness
  • a private practitioner – search for a certified mindfulness teacher at

You can learn more by visiting the Mental Health Foundation website and choosing ‘How to look after your mental health using mindfulness’.

Some cancer support groups or organisations may offer relaxation, massage, aromatherapy or reflexology. You can ask your cancer doctor or specialist nurse whether these are suitable for you.

Relaxation exercises can help you learn to relax your breathing or your body. You can find more information on stress and anxiety on You might also find it helpful to visit the Anxiety UK website. There are also many online apps or podcasts you can use at home.

You can ask your GP about relaxation exercises. They may be able to refer you to a healthcare professional who can show you how to do them.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are used with, or as well as, conventional medical treatments.

Conventional medical treatments are those used by doctors to treat cancer, such as chemotherapy. Complementary therapies do not claim that they can treat or cure cancer. People might use complementary therapies to improve their physical or emotional health. They may also use them to reduce cancer symptoms or the side effects of cancer treatments.

There are many types of complementary therapies, including:

  • mind-body therapies, such as yoga, meditation and hypnotherapy
  • massage and other touch therapies, such as reflexology
  • acupuncture
  • therapies using herb and plants as a complementary remedy
  • therapies using supplements or diet.

If you are thinking of using a complementary therapy, always check with your doctor. Some therapies have been scientifically tested to check how effective and safe they are, and if they have side effects. But it is often difficult to know how effective a complementary therapy is.

Some hospitals, hospices and support groups provide complementary therapies alongside cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Some Macmillan Information and Support Centres offer free complementary therapies to people with cancer. Find your nearest Information and Support Centre.

Practical tips to help you cope

It can help to take things 1 day at a time and not look too far ahead. Life might get easier to cope with over time. Having a routine can sometimes help. This might include:

  • getting up and dressed every day
  • eating healthily
  • exercising regularly
  • keeping to a regular sleeping pattern
  • finding time for relaxation every day
  • planning things you enjoy, so you have something to look forward to
  • writing things down or making lists
  • setting goals to work towards.

You can also ask other people for help. This may include:

  • accepting offers of help and asking people for support
  • staying in contact with your family and friends
  • recognising when you are feeling stressed and asking your doctor for advice if you need to
  • sharing your feelings with your family or friends, or with a professional
  • talking to your doctor, nurse or dietitian if you have eating problems or a poor appetite.

The Mental Health Foundation also has information on how to look after your mental health.

About our information

This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer.

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our diagnosis and staging information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Common mental health problems: identification and pathways to care. Clinical guideline [CG123]. May 2011. Available from: (accessed November 2022).

    Depression in adults: treatment and management. NICE guideline [NG222]. June 2022. Available from: (accessed November 2022).

    Depression in adults with a chronic physical health problem: recognition and management. Clinical guideline [CG91]. October 2009.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2023
Next review: 01 November 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

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