Depression and Mood Changes

Printer Friendly

Dealing with a brain tumor can be a long, difficult journey, whether it is chronic or terminal. Regardless of the type of tumor, the duration of treatment and the quality of life after treatment, it is possible that both the patient and caregiver will encounter depression somewhere along the way.


Even if depression has never been a challenge in the past, a brain tumor can change that. In addition to the feeling of depression that comes naturally with bad news, it can also be a side effect of the tumor and its treatment. Depending on where the tumor is situated, both mood and personality can be altered by its presence. Chemotherapy, surgery and any other treatment that impacts the chemistry of the brain and neurological function can trigger depression as well.


Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of depression as an illness, preferring to believe it is something that you can “snap out of” if only you try. It is not. Depression is a serious clinical condition with several different causes.  It can be caused by a change in the brain’s chemical neurotransmitters, which control mood; changes in hormone levels, which can trigger depression when out of balance; genetic predisposition; physical changes to the brain, such as like a brain tumor; and major life events, such as a brain tumor diagnosis. The good news is that once diagnosed, depression can usually be effectively treated.


So, how do you know if you’re depressed or just really sad about your situation?  Here are some symptoms to look for. While any person may understandably feel any of these emotions at a given moment, the intensity and duration of these feelings may indicate depression:

  • Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
  • Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Changes in appetite. Depression often causes decreased appetite and weight loss, but in some people it causes increased cravings for food and weight gain.
  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration
  • Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy — even small tasks may seem to require a lot of effort
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

For some people, depression symptoms are so severe that it is obvious something is not right. Others people feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.


Having a brain tumor brings an additional layer to the challenge of treating depression.  Many symptoms of depression can also be considered symptoms of a tumor or its treatment. Patients concerned about depression will want to talk to their primary care doctor and ask for a referral to a specialized therapist, social worker or counselor.


There are many treatments available to sufferers of depression including medication, talk therapy and alternative therapies. In addition a neuropsychologist can also help navigate changes in personality and behavior which sometimes occur in patients.


Changes in Behavior

While depression can certainly alter a person’s outlook, a brain tumor can bring dramatic shifts in behavior. An easygoing, peaceful person can transform with no idea that there has been a change. Interference with brain function by tumor or treatment can create rapid and unsettling changes in personality. 


A neuropsychologist can help the patient along this path. Such transformations are likely to be difficult on the family and caregivers of the patient. Our Caregivers Section has more information on resources on dealing with changes in behavior.