Jamie has been working with the communications team this week to some work experience. He is keen to become a journalist, so we asked him to research a topic to do with lung disease and write an article about it for the web community. He’s been working on it over the last few days, here it is:
When you think of lung conditions, you may first think of the physical impacts – chest pains, breathlessness and persistent coughs – but what often gets overlooked is, the almost equally bad, psychological impact. While this is true for all serious health conditions (15-25 per cent of cancer patients are affected by depression) it is thought the psychological impacts are more prominent in lung conditions. This may be because lung conditions limit a patient’s activity as well as making it more difficult for them to get to sleep, which lead to lifestyle changes and tiredness.
One of the emotional effects can come with the initial diagnosis. The discovery of a lung condition can be distressing and may set in motion intense feelings of denial, with many recently diagnosed patients convincing themselves the doctor has made a mistake. While denial can sometimes be a healthy coping mechanism, if it lasts too long it can result in an avoidance of the facts preventing you from effectively dealing with the condition – although usually denial passes after a short period of time. Finding out about a lung condition can also cause anger, especially towards the doctor who told you about the disease.
Once the idea of living with a lung condition has sunk in, you could feel anxiety, which in turn causes impatience and worry. This anxiety may be fear of breathlessness, pain, or how the condition may affect loved ones – and commonly the fear of dying. Often this fear increases during the night to create a sense of helplessness and isolation – evidence suggests that patients with chronic breathlessness commonly call for emergency assistance during the night. These experiences of dread can be both lessened and heightened by your perception of the disease – a sense of control over the condition will always reduce the amount of fear and make it easier for you to cope with the disease.
Guilt is also frequently experienced by those living with lung conditions, especially among smokers who often consider the disease to be self-inflicted. It is also common to consider yourself to be a ‘burden’ and therefore feel shame and a loss of dignity. Lung conditions can also cause a shift in family dynamics. This can cause you to change social position within the family, which can be upsetting if you were previously the main earner and can contribute to creating tension.
The most common psychological impact felt by those living with lung conditions is depression – 75 per cent of patients with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have experienced depression. The main cause of this depression is the limitations lung conditions have on your functional abilities, meaning often you may have to alter your plans for the future, or be unable to work. This constraint on lifestyle very often triggers depression. Living with lung disease you may also experience depression due to a change in your body image decreasing self-esteem, or embarrassment from a cough, resulting in a loss of desire to leave the house which may create social isolation and loneliness. When experiencing depression you can often feel as if things will never get better – this can create a reluctance to follow the treatment plan for your lung condition, and so it is very important depression is treated as quickly as possible.
Fortunately there are many ways for you to reduce these psychological effects. The British Lung Foundation (BLF) offers Breathe Easy support groups where you can socialise with those in a similar situation to you and discuss your feelings and concerns, as well as a PenPals scheme which puts you in touch with other people living with lung conditions and their family, friends and carers. The BLF also provide information to help you maintain control of your life, and the BLF helpline who are always there to provide expert information and advice. It’s very important to talk to someone if you experience any of these problems to make them more manageable. Breathing techniques can also be used to overcome feelings of breathlessness and therefore control anxiety.
Katie Peters at the British Lung Foundation says that keeping active is really important to get you out of the vicious cycle of inactivity and depression. She said: “The best way to exercise with a lung condition is through Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR) which is a six to eight week training course that helps you to get active in a safe away”. The British Lung Foundation website signposts to these activities and also has ‘How to get active’ pages. Katie stresses: “You should set manageable goals which mean something to you, rather than setting impossible targets. Keeping active can come in many forms; from a short walk to Tai Chi courses, or even joining a choir as singing helps increase lung capacity and is an easy way to meet new people.”
And of course, the web community here is a great place to talk through your feelings and share your experiences.
British Lung Foundation: blf.org.uk/Page/Coping-with...
BBC Online: bbc.co.uk/news/health-22478706
Live Strong: livestrong.com/article/1888...
Houston Lung Docs:http://www.houstonlungdocs.com/anxiety-and-depression-in-lung-disease/