Oncologists’ identification of mental health distress in cancer patients: Strategies and barriers Academic Article uri icon


  • The purpose of this research was to examine oncologists’ perspectives on indicators of mental health distress in patients: what strategies they use to identify these indicators, and what barriers they face in this task. Twenty-three oncologists were interviewed, and the grounded theory method of data collection and analysis was used. Oncologists perceived distress to be a normative part of having cancer and looked for affective, physical, verbal and behavioural indicators using a number of strategies. Barriers to identification of mental health distress included difficulty in differentiating between mental health distress and symptoms of the disease, and lack of training. A systematic, time-efficient assessment of symptoms of emotional distress is critical for identification of psychiatric disorders among patients and differentiating normative emotional responses from psychopathology. Clinical bias and misdiagnosis can be a consequence of an ad hoc, intuitive approach to assessment, which can have consequences for patients and their families. Once elevated risk is identified for mental health distress, the patient can be referred to specialised care that can offer evidence-based treatments.

publication date

  • January 1, 2018