It's estimated that almost half of those with COPD suffer from depression. And it's easy to understand why. COPD causes a lot of changes in your body. Breathlessness, weight loss, sleeping and eating problems, and depletion of energy are just a few examples of the physical changes you’ll experience over the course of the disease. Many of these changes can lead to feelings of loss and negativity because you can no longer do the things you used to do, and can cause you to sink into clinical depression. When you're depressed, you can get stuck mourning life as you knew it before COPD.
Unfortunately, depression can actually exacerbate your physical symptoms. For example, constantly feeling “down” can cause you to have trouble following your treatment plan. You may find that it's easy to forget your medications or not exercise. You may even turn to alcohol, cigarettes, or other unhealthy habits to cope, which can wreck further havoc on your body.
Signs of Depression
That's why it's important to recognize the symptoms of depression. All of us have a bad day now and then, but when you're depressed, you may experience these symptoms much of the time:
- feeling irritable or angry with others
- feeling sad for weeks at a time or crying a lot
- trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- lack of interest in people or activities you once enjoyed
- lethargy and lack of motivation
- trouble concentrating or making decisions
- increased or decreased appetite
- feeling hopeless or even suicidal
- feeling overly sensitive to criticism
- feeling guilty or worthless
- inability to enjoy yourself or find humor in things
Depression Drugs and COPD
If you have five or more of these symptoms, it's important to talk to your doctor. They may want to prescribe a medication to help alleviate your depression. It's important to find the right medication, because many antidepressants can interfere with medications you may already be taking for your COPD. Two medications that are commonly used for those with COPD are sertraline (Zoloft) or citalopram (Celexa). It's important to know that it takes as long as three weeks for an anti-depressive medication to take full effect.
Therapy for COPD-Related Depression
Besides medication, many people who suffer from depression find relief by seeing a mental health specialist. There are many forms of therapy, both individual and group, that can help you learn how to cope with your disease and begin to adapt to a “new version” of you. Get a reference from your pulmonologist or primary care doctor—they may know of a mental health professional who has experience working with COPD patients.
Support groups may also be beneficial for those with COPD who are experiencing depression. Being in a setting with others who are facing many of the same problems can help you to feel less alone. You may discover some real life tips and advice for coping by talking to others. You don't have to live with depression. With the right combination of treatments, you'll be better able to cope with your COPD and get down to the business of living.