The emotional impact of lung disease - written by Jamie who is on work experience with the BLF comms team

Hello everyone,

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.


Nursing Times:

British Lung Foundation:

BBC Online:

Live Strong:

Houston Lung Docs:

23 Replies

Very good.

Welk done Jamie x:-)

Excellent - well done Jamie :)

Nice style, good content, well written.


I wish I had seen something like this when I was first told about my lung disease. Having the knowledge you relate would have given me a much better insight into my condition and feelings. Well done Jamie.


A great informative article.

Lynne xx

Nice one Jamie. Good luck with the journalism, i look forward to hearing in the future that you're the editor of Time Magazine! :-)

Nice effort but am not guilty or find it ever sinks in you just have to live with it ... In my case am sure with others am not best pleased with having my life mobility snatched from me a suppose thats what makes me tad bitter

Well done Jamie,

very concise,well written.


This is really excellent Jamie. It should be made able to be easily accessed by newly diagnosed members. Libby

very infomative and he really seems to understand what it is like to live with a lung condition.....would it be an idea to have the article printed as a pamphlet for the BLF to distribute.

The BLF leaflets were the best source of information for me when I was first diagnosed.


Excellent work Jamie

HI Jamie

I hope that you enjoyed your work experience week with BLF Comms Team.

The article you produced is great stuff. I hope that you achieve your goal and become a journalist (I'm sure that you'll become a first rate one).



Excellent report


Really well written article, If I ever feel the need to explain to anyone how I sometimes feel about my condition I can just let them read this piece. Very good and thank you.

Good to see your name after so long Chris


Cheers Chris..I still have a look at the site occasionaly. Best wishes.

Well written Jamie, and nice to see you back canalchris, we do worry when the regulars disappear. Have you been out on the motor bike this nice weather? Keep smiling

Carole x

- Brilliant Jamie - you got it in one !! - perhaps if many Doctors read your article- they might be a "Bit more in touch " ABOUT HOW WE FEEL ABOUT THIS CONDITION, apart from the physical problems - I get the impression from what I hear and read, AND even from my own Doctor, that they are somewhat ignorant on the psychological aspects to lung disease. Even my own Consultant calls COPD - the " CINDERELLA OF ALL DISEASES " .......

Very well written, interesting and informative. I think this would make a very useful handout within Pulmonary Rehabilitation, particular for sharing with partners and family.

Well done Jamie, good work


Well written Jamie and very well thought out. Good luck to you in the future.

Many thanks Jamie. I have just hear that I begin PR in April. It seems everything about lung disease involves a long wait.

Blessings on your career. We need folk with talent to tackle many important articles. Don't forget us when you start your journalism.

very good article. I'd also like to add that there is a lack of control around your environment that increases anxiety - and may lead also to isolation and depression. For example, a wheelchair user can check ahead that where they will be going is wheelchair friendly, but a sufferer of lung disease can be suddenly and unexpectedly exposed to conditions that make them feel physically worse. I was in an indian restaurant and the chef burned chilli, filling it with smoke, and I have been to peoples houses where they have had numerous automatic room sprays and plug ins - all of which make my breathing worse. There are just so many of these types of things that happen all the time - heat, cold, fumes, dust etc. This is coupled with a real lack of understanding. People think you just get a bit breathless and then you are ok. They don't understand the physical suffering caused by lung hyper-inflation, and the dread caused by the fact that, even when you have got your breath back, you know any activity will set it off again.

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