Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes a lot of changes in your body. Breathlessness, weight loss, sleeping and eating problems, and depletion of energy are just a few of the physical changes you’ll experience over the course of the disease. These changes can lead to feelings of loss, frustration, or sadness because you can no longer do the things you used to do. You may even experience depression, a mood disorder that causes you to feel sad and disinterested. When you’re depressed, you can get stuck mourning life as you knew it before COPD. One study estimated that 40 percent of those with COPD suffer from depression.
Depression can also make your physical symptoms worse. For example, feeling “down” all the time can make it hard for you to follow 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 cause more harm to your body.
Signs of Depression
The symptoms of depression can overlap with symptoms of COPD. This can make it tricky to recognize the symptoms of depression. Paying attention to your feelings and mental state can help you and your doctor tell the difference. All of us have a bad day now and then, but when you’re depressed you may often feel:
- irritable or angry with others
- sad for weeks at a time or crying a lot
- hopeless or even suicidal
- overly sensitive to criticism
- guilty or worthless
Other common symptoms of depression include:
- trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- trouble concentrating or making decisions
- lack of interest in people or activities you once enjoyed
- lethargy and lack of motivation
- increased or decreased appetite
- inability to enjoy yourself or find humor in things
Antidepressants 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 essential to find the right medication for you because many antidepressants can interfere with medications you may already take for your COPD.
Two medications that doctors prescribe for depression in people with COPD are sertraline (Zoloft) or citalopram (Celexa). It can take up to 8 weeks for an antidepressant to take full effect, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results right away.
Therapy for COPD-Related Depression
Besides medication, many people who suffer from depression find relief by seeing a mental health specialist. Individual therapy and group therapy can help you learn how to cope with your disease and adapt to your life with COPD. 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 people with COPD who are experiencing depression. Being in a setting with others who are facing many of the same problems can help you feel less alone. You may discover some real life tips and advice for coping by talking to others. With the right combination of treatments, you’ll be better able to cope with your COPD.
A variety of online support groups are also available for people with COPD. A quick search on the Internet can give you many options. Many of these popular sites have forums or discussion groups where members can share their feelings to an understanding group of peers. Remember that you aren’t the first person to feel this way. Talking with someone from the comfort of your home can be a great first step to reaching out for help with depression.
What’s the Takeaway?
The symptoms of COPD can naturally lead to feelings of sadness or loss. However, in some people, those feelings develop into clinical depression. Getting treatment for depression is important for your mental, emotional, and physical health. When you’re depressed, you may not take proper care of yourself or follow your treatment plan, which can make your COPD worse. There are a variety of treatments available to help you cope with COPD and depression.