‘It was all intertwined’: Illness representations and self-management in patients with cancer and anxiety/depression

Emma M. Richardson, Jennifer L. Scott, Natalie Schüz, Kristy Sanderson, Benjamin Schüz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Cancer and anxiety/depression frequently co-occur, leading to poorer outcomes for these illnesses. However, the majority of existing research investigates how participants view single illnesses alone. This study aimed to explore the content of individuals’ multimorbid representations and how these relate to their coping behaviours and self-management strategies for cancer and anxiety/depression. 

Design: A semi-structured qualitative research design with theoretical thematic analysis. 

Main Outcome Measures: Multimorbid illness representations, coping behaviours, and self-management strategies. 

Results: In interviews with 21 participants multimorbid representations varied, three participants viewed cancer and anxiety/depression as unrelated, five participants were uncertain about the relationship between cancer and anxiety/depression, and the majority of participants perceived cancer and anxiety/depression as related. This third group of participants often described relationships as causal, with representations having both positive and negative influences on coping behaviours and self-management strategies. Representations were shown to change over the course of the cancer experience, with fear of cancer recurrence and the influence of participants’ most challenging illness also discussed. 

Conclusions: People hold multimorbid illness representations that can influence self-management. An awareness of these representations by researchers, health professionals, and patients is important for the creation of future interventions that aim to improve and maintain patient wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1082-1108
Number of pages27
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number9
Early online date17 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2017


  • anxiety
  • cancer
  • depression
  • illness representations
  • multimorbidity

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