Psychological Distress

Patient & Family Teaching Sheet

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What is psychological distress?

Uneasy feelings of anxiety or depression in response to physical, spiritual, or emotional demands – or a combination of multiple demands – that result in temporary or permanent harm

What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Feelings of anxiety, sadness, or an Wanting to be alone
  • Feeling “out of control” or overwhelmed much of the time
  • Difficulty coping with everyday problems
  • Unable to talk about ways to solve problems or talk about fears
  • Needing the help of others to make decisions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Not taking care of self
  • Looking sad, frow Crying easily. Loss of hope or sense of comfort
  • Laughing at odd times
  • Aches and pa Feeling that your heart is racing
  • Thoughts of suicide or hastening death
  • Not wanting to follow the advice of the healthcare team

What to report to the care team?

  • Any signs of behaviors listed above
  • New onset of reckless behav Talking or thinking about suicide
  • Firearms in the home. Hoarding or stockpiling medications
  • Seeing images or hearing voices not seen or heard by others
  • History of psychiatric illness or history of use of medications taken for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, dementia, or bipolar disorder
  • Lack of interest in self or life in general
  • If you experience a new problem or if a current problem is getting worse and the present medication does not seem to be working
  • Side effects of medications

What can be done for psychological distress?

Psychological distress is common with a terminal disease, especially if physical symptoms are present.  Your healthcare team wants you to be physically comfortable.  There is a direct link between how one feels physically and how one feels psychologically and emotionally.

Patients and Family

  • Do not feel that you are bothering your healthcare team by asking questions
  • Asking questions means you care


  • You may not feel up to talking with many You may want to have one person to talk to whom you trust
  • Try to have a daily routine, including a regular sleep schedule
  • Eat a balanced diet and exercise as you are able
  • Avoid alcohol and non-prescribed drugs and herbal remedies
  • Ask for and accept assistance from your team, including: family, friends, nurses, physicians, nursing assistants, social workers, chaplain


  • Provide a calm, relaxing setting
  • Be flex The patient may want to talk one day. The next, he/she may need quiet and calm
  • Be willing to be with them without having to “do” something
  • If needed, help with medications. Report any medication side effects or changes in behavior
  • Treat the patient with dignity and respect
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for h Do not be hard on yourself with comments like “I should have done this or that” or “I should have known that”
  • As much as you can, enjoy this time together and look for ways to make memories