Depression is a common problem for patients with pulmonary fibrosis. It makes sense; we are trying to process being diagnosed with this disease, and its effects on us now and in the future. There is so much to handle as we seek treatment, and obtain the services we need. We are also worn out as we adjust to our new normal … and that’s just a few things on the list.
I wrote a column a while back about how normal it is to be sad, frustrated, angry, and overwhelmed by all the emotions that come with our diagnosis. It’s also common for patients, as well as caregivers, to struggle with depression because of ongoing stress and grief.
Some studies estimate that depression is 1.5 to 7 times more likely to occur in individuals with chronic illness than in the general population. The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation states in its Support Group Leader Guide, “There is a high prevalence of depression and anxiety in people living with PF and their partners. These appear to be related to increasing symptoms and decreased quality of life.”
A therapist’s perspective
As a marriage and family therapist for over 30 years, I’ve treated many people who have struggled with depression. Many do not realize that prolonged stress can change our brain chemistry, causing our brains to no longer produce enough of the normal anti-depressants they used to. As patients, we go through many sources of ongoing stress.
Since it is common for PF patients to develop depression, I’ve been trying to notice how I’m feeling. Sometimes depression can creep up on us, so I want to be as active as I can to head it off at the pass. For me, it’s a challenge to distinguish depression from the grief I feel about the way my life has changed, and the normal tiredness I feel from having PF.
Talk to your doctor
My pulmonologist often asks if I’m feeling depressed, which I appreciate. Many studies show that diagnoses of anxiety and depression in PF patients are frequently missed. If you are dealing with depression that doesn’t seem to be lifting, please talk to your doctor about it.
Many ways to deal with depression
Here’s some ideas that may help:
- Talk Therapy — Just being able to talk with someone really helps. It is common for patients to not share distressing feelings with family members, because they don’t want to burden or worry them. The great thing about talking to a therapist is you can share whatever you want, find empathy and understanding, and get ideas that might help. The best way to get a referral is through your doctor or a friend.
- Exercise — Now I know how hard this is. I’m on 8 lpm sitting and 10 lpm walking, so I understand what a challenge this can be. I go to pulmonary rehab twice a week, which I’ve discussed in a previous column. There are also exercises you can do while sitting down. I’m starting a new program this week, so I’ll tell you more about how it goes in a couple of weeks.
- Support Groups — Joining an online or in-person support group with other patients who understand what you’re going through. Here’s some ideas to check out.
- Medication — Sometimes medication can get our brain chemistry back to functioning like it used to. It can take four to six weeks to notice improvement. Medication use doesn’t have to be long term, although it can take six to nine months for your brain to reset itself. Talk to your doctor about this possibility. Your pulmonologist, primary care doctor, psychiatrist, or nurse practitioner can prescribe medication (at least in the United States).
Let’s do all we can
I encourage you to seek help if you are struggling with depression. We are are going through so many hardships. Let’s not let depression take away the good moments and joys in the life we have left to live.
I would love to hear from you. What stood out to you in this column? Have you struggled with depression? What helps lift your mood?
We’re in this together, and we can benefit from our combined courage, experiences and support. Please share this post with anyone you think could benefit, or on social media.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.