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New Jersey has the second-highest cancer rate in the country. Each year, 56,150 residents  — more than 1,000 people a week — hear the words “you have cancer” for the first time. They must process the diagnosis, inform loved ones, consider treatments and clinical trials, deal with side effects and confront their mortality. All too often, they face these challenges alone, without adequate mental health support. 

This May, Mental Health Awareness Month, we need to talk about it. 

While mental health challenges vary depending on cancer type, gender, mental health history and other factors, the facts are clear: 1 in 4 people living with cancer are clinically depressed, and up to 20% have anxiety. We also know  the more severe the prognosis, the more likely the risk of increased emotional distress not only for the cancer patient, but also for the entire family. 

Unfortunately, mental health is still an issue riddled with stigma. Many people aren’t comfortable talking about it — either personal mental health challenges or those of their loved ones. Others struggle with insurance barriers and limited access to critical help when they really need it. 

COVID-19 only increased isolation. Multiple studies show how the pandemic contributed to a decline in mental health. Research from Boston University found depression rates tripled during COVID-19. The World Health Organization reported a 25% increase in global anxiety during the first year. We have watched with alarm as COVID-19 exacerbated the impact of a cancer diagnosis for many patients. 

As medical science advances, there is a pronounced need for cancer care to normalize integrated mental health services. However, up to 37% of Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals, with more serious shortages in rural areas. Even in centers where mental health services with a social worker or psychologist are available, there are often long waiting lists for support. 

New Jersey is not immune to this problem. The nonprofit organization Mental Health America recently ranked New Jersey 24th among all states in terms of access to mental health care based on factors like access, quality, cost of insurance and workforce availability.   

We are not alone in grappling with these issues. But as the problem grows in our state, we are now making a concerted effort to drive positive change. 

Innovative medications

New Jersey is important to us, which is why BeiGene is now building new manufacturing facilities in Hopewell due to open next year, as part of our mission to develop innovative medications. However, to truly have an impact, we must take a holistic approach. That is why BeiGene has launched a new program — Talk About It: Cancer and Mental Health — to elevate and amplify the underserved intersection of cancer care and mental health to help improve outcomes for cancer patients. Created for patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals, Talk About It brings together local and national resources and programs on a new website cancerandmentalhealth.com and raises mental health care as a critical component of quality cancer care.  

While Talk About It unites a range of stakeholders across the U.S., it also highlights important local work already in motion like Crossroads4Hope, A Network of Cancer Support and MyGo2Support program. It partners with organizations like Crossroads4Hope to help deliver on that commitment.

Crossroads4Hope is a Bedminster-based, New Jersey-focused nonprofit network of cancer support for patients and families, providing critical social services to tens of thousands of New Jersey residents for the past 20 years. This unique direct-to-mobile psychosocial oncology platform enhances an individual’s mental well-being by delivering 24/7 personalized support and resources when and where they’re needed most, including at home or work. MyGo2Support helps transform the cancer experience, making it possible for Crossroads4Hope to take on the cancer journey together with cancer patients, family members, caregivers, survivors and those in bereavement throughout New Jersey. 

These are the types of programs that generate solutions. They improve cancer patient outcomes through strengthened, integrated mental wellness services that are accessible and equitable for patients. 

Together, we can amplify the connection between physical and mental well-being. We can advocate for holistic support for cancer patients and their loved ones. We can overcome the stigma of cancer and mental health. But we need your help. 

We encourage everyone with a stake — patients, caregivers, patient advocacy organizations, lawmakers, health care professionals, or those who may have a friend, family member or co-worker facing a cancer diagnosis — to join us in this effort. If we talk about it, we can improve the mental health outcomes for all people touched by cancer in New Jersey and lead the way nationwide.