COPD and Depression - Part II: You Can Feel Better!

  • In COPD and Depression – Part I: Who, Me? we met Jerry at a routine doctor’s office visit…

    “I’m fighting for every breath here, doc. I can’t do anything I used to. I was a strong guy, a firefighter for goodness sake. Now I can barely carry my garden hose. I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate, I don’t feel like doing anything anymore.” Jerry sat across from Dr. Rogers, leaned over, his elbows on his knees, looked down and sighed. “I don’t know, doc. Maybe it’s just all in my head.”

    We’ll find out later what Dr. Rogers said, but first, let’s learn a bit more about depression – symptoms and treatment.

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    What are the symptoms of depression?

    •    Loss of interest in favorite activities
    •    Always tired
    •    Frequent sadness
    •    Irritability
    •    Significant weight change
    •    Wishing to be left alone
    •    Hopelessness
    •    Trouble sleeping
    •    Lack of appetite
    •    Thoughts of death or suicide
    •    Feeling worthless or guilty for no reason
    •    Difficulty concentrating

    If you feel this way, or are beginning to feel this way, you may be heading for depression, and once it begins it may be harder to break out of it. If any of the above start to creep up on you, take action! There are things you can do. There is help. You just have to ask.

    Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. He or she may prescribe an anti-depressant medication. These medicines do help, and you should not hesitate to try them.

    Ask your doctor if you should talk to a counselor or other mental health specialist. It is not a sign of weakness to talk with somebody about issues that affect your happiness and well being. Really.

    Ask your doctor to refer you to Pulmonary Rehab. There you will learn how to exercise, safely and effectively – even if you’re very short of breath. This will help you build up your strength and use oxygen more efficiently. The fitter you can get, the more confidence you have, and the more your outlook improves. At Pulmonary Rehab you’ll learn tips for staying healthy – and you’ll meet others who understand what it’s like to live each day with COPD.

    Talk with an understanding friend or clergy. Sometimes just sitting down and talking about what you’re going through can make your problems easier to deal with.

    Give yourself a change of scene by taking a walk or drive. Just getting out of the house can help you feel much better. Seeing something new helps take your mind off yourself.

    Join a group – a breathing support group or one based on a hobby – book club, stamp collecting, quilting, something that makes you feel good. The wider you can make your circle of acquaintances, the better.

    Educate your family. As well intentioned as your loved ones may be, they often have no concept of what it’s like to live with COPD.

    Help others by volunteering. Even with shortness of breath, there are things you can do to make your community a better place. Check with your local hospital, school or library to see what you can do.

  • So, what did Dr. Rogers say?

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    “Jerry, it sounds like you’re depressed. I think we can help you with that.”
    “Oh, I don’t know… Maybe I’m just getting old.”

    “This happens to a lot of folks. I’m going to send you over to see Linda, the respiratory therapist at Pulmonary Rehab. She can tell you about the program. I think you could also benefit from talking with somebody about this.”

    “Now, wait a minute, doc…I’m not going to a shrink. I’ll just give myself a kick and I’ll be fine.”

    Dr. Rogers smiled. “Okay, no “shrink,” for now… How about your pastor? I’ll bet he’d be happy to take a few minutes to sit down and talk with you.”


    “Well, he’s always asking me to stop over for coffee…”

    “Good. You give him a call. Soon. And one more thing – I’m giving you a prescription for an anti-depressant.

    “Hold on now…I’ve never been one to…”

    “Just give it a try, and if you don’t think it’s working, let me know. But, I really think it’ll help.” He paused. “Okay, Jerry, are you all set? Anything else you wanted to ask me?”

    “Nope, I think that’s it, doc. Thanks.”

    Depression is common in people with COPD, dragging down patients and their families. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of! Watch for the signs of depression. Recognize them, accept them for what they are, talk to your doctor, and then follow through with all the help that’s available. Beware of that nasty monster – depression. He’ll sneak up on you if you let him. But now that you know who he is, and what to do, you can fight him off – and get on with living.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness.

Published On: June 14, 2010