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Looking after your mental health

Your mental health when living with a long-term lung condition

Experiencing mental health problems when living with a long-term lung condition is common. On this page, we explain why this is and the different mental health issues you might face.

On this page:

Living with a long-term lung condition can affect many aspects of your life. You’ll have physical symptoms, like getting out of breath and feeling tired. Lung conditions can also affect your mood, how you feel, and your ability to cope with daily life.

You are not alone. It’s important to know there are ways of coping, and treatments are available to help you feel better.

What’s the link between lung conditions and mental health problems?

If you live with a long-term lung condition, you might find that:

  • you have a persistent cough or feel so breathless you stay at home more
  • your breathing problems have stopped you doing what you love
  • you don’t sleep as well and lose interest in your usual activities
  • you feel frustrated that you can’t do the things you used to do
  • you may not like needing regular treatment and support from others
  • you worry about the future with your condition.

This can leave you feeling angry, frustrated, low or hopeless. These emotions can be symptoms of depression

It is also very common to feel anxious. Your main symptom may be getting short of breath or tightness in your chest, which can be very frightening. Being frightened can make us feel out of breath and a vicious circle can develop.  

People often experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at the same time. That, in turn, can make your lung condition worse:

  • you find physical activity difficult or worry about getting too breathless, so you avoid it
  • you avoid social situations, leaving you feeling isolated
  • you avoid asking for support from friends and family.

Experiencing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression is a normal reaction to living with a long-term lung condition. Remember that many other people have mental health problems and have recovered from them. 

The mental impact on me is the hardest. I lost confidence when I wasn’t able to do things my friends could. And at times I’ve felt angry and isolated.

Over time I’ve learnt to adapt. It’s not been an easy process, but it started by accepting that what will be will be. It’s a hard shift to make and I still have down days.

Andy, who lives with a rare interstitial lung disease, shares how he’s learned to see the positive side.

What mental health problems might I experience?

Many people with long-term lung conditions experience mental health problems as well as their condition. You might feel anxious, have a low mood, or symptoms of depression. It’s very common to experience anxiety and depression together.

You might have experienced traumatic events because of your lung condition. For example, spending time in an intensive care ward, or if you require mechanical assistance to breathe. You may have flash backs which do not get better over time. This can lead to a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. If you had had depression or anxiety in the past, or if you don’t have much support from friends or family, you are more susceptible to develop PTSD after a traumatic event.

It is important if you notice the signs or symptoms of a mental health condition you seek help from your health care professional. Treatment and support are available to help you.

It can be hard to admit or to recognise if you’re feeling low or anxious. The NHS Choices mood self-assessment tool can help you better understand how you’ve been feeling recently. And once you’ve completed the questionnaire, it will point you in the right direction for support and advice tailored for you. 

Loneliness and social isolation

Loneliness and social isolation can affect many of us across all walks of life.

Loneliness is how you feel about your level of social contact and the quality of your relationships. Loneliness doesn’t always mean you are on your own. You can feel lonely and have lots of friends, be in a relationship and see people on a regular basis. 

Social isolation is about the number of social contacts you have. Having a small number of social contacts doesn’t always mean a person is lonely – this can be a choice.

Loneliness can lead to social isolation and social isolation can lead to loneliness. Both can occur at the same time.

While feeling lonely isn’t a mental health condition, it can make a mental health condition worse. And having a long-term lung condition can also make you feel lonely. Having a condition that affects what you can do can make you miss out on things, and in turn make you feel lonely. You might feel like no one understands what you’re going through with your condition, and you have no one to talk to about it. 

Talking to other people who understand what you’re going through can be a big help. Join a Asthma + Lung UK support group to learn more about living with a lung condition and make friends in your local area. You can also join our online community, where you can chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week about whatever’s on your mind.

There are things you can do to help manage loneliness and improve your wellbeing. Age UK and Mind have useful information on practical things you can do and places you can look to for support.

Download our mental health information (PDF, 474KB)

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