Depression and COPD

“John Smith” was diagnosed with Alpha-1 27 years ago. At the time, he had two young children, ages three and five.

“I didn’t know how to deal with that [being diagnosed.] People told me I had five years to live, so I guess the depression set in right then, but I didn’t realize it at the time,” Smith says. “I thought that somehow I could lie about it [his condition].”

It is estimated that up to 40 percent of COPD patients also suffer from depression. This number is much higher than patients dealing with other chronic diseases. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes you to feel sad most of the time.

“Well, the deal with this disease was that I was choking on my breath, and not knowing where I was going to end up. I was suffocating, frankly. So that’s what really brought on the depression,” he says.

COPD can cause changes in your body that predispose you to depression. For instance, COPD can alter the quality of your sleep, which can depress your mood. In some cases, patients feel sad because they can no longer participate in the activities that they enjoy because of breathlessness. Many times, it can also be difficult to be in public because some people feel self conscious about their oxygen or outings may be too tiring. This can lead to social isolation, which can also lead to depression.

Luckily, Smith says he has a great relationship with his family, and found encouragement through Alcoholics Anonymous.

“I realized that nothing was going to change, and it didn’t. I did start drinking to alleviate the pain, and it was the fellowship [from members of AA] that helped,” he says. “I’m also a firm believer in God, and it helped me to rely on Him.”

Some symptoms of depression- If you feel sad, down, hopeless or cranky most of the day, almost every day for most of the time for at least two weeks.

Exercise and joining a support group can help improve your mood. Smith says it helps you to get out of the “nest” you’re in, and connect to other people who are going through similar experiences.

“Don’t isolate yourself. Contact people who have the same disease, talk to them, and form a social relationship with them,” he says.

If you have questions, connect with the community on COPD360social.


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  • All so true! I do need to find help that's right for me.sometimes it feels like no one cares if I am dead or alive!
  • I don't know what it is. I have a positive attitude, try to make the best of what I have, do all my meds, use my O2 24/7, exercise the best I can because I can't afford rehab until next year. With the said above I seem to be slipping into the depression hole. My wife says I worry to much and I think that I'm to hard on myself. Don't even know why I wrote this, just hope I can away before it gets me.
    • Hack,
      For me fighting off the demons is all about getting out and doing "normal" things with long time friends. Yes, there are a lot of things I can't do but we go out to dinners and/or lunches, go to craft fairs and music festivals, go to the movies or just hang out and have a beer or whatever. I think its a variation on the old saying about idyll hands being the devils workshop, for me it's an idyll mind. So when I get out with others instead of sitting around thinking about myself I find I feel much better and I can keep the demons away.

    • Hi hack, recognizing the signs of depression is incredibly important. It is good that you are able to name it. Love Ken's suggestions about fighting off demons by trying to go out. Wish you the best and as always, we are here to chat!

  • Fabiana... Thanks for your concern. Yes we do go out a lot. Happy hours with the friends, lunch as well. In the summer pool parties and we go to the movies quite often too. Don't have a whole lot of friends but they are there when we need them. I was probably having a bad day when I wrote that.
    • Breath easy my friend
    • I have had depression all my life but when i started with copd it got worse i do understand
  • I have had both COPD and depression most of my life. The COPD became disabling about 15 years ago. I had been treated for depression off and on by my family doctor. The problem was he would take me off medication as soon as I got better. Finally I got a referral to a psychiatrist. I was told I would have to take medication the rest of my life.

    Once the psychiatrist and I found the proper medication and dose things have been much better. I still have ups and downs but the downs do not go as low as they used to. Getting the depression under control has helped with treating my breathing problems.

    The relation between COPD and depression (and/or anxiety) works both ways. Not being able to breath makes it harder to deal with life's ups and downs. Depression makes sticking with COPD treatment more difficult. Many of us need to see a pulmonologist and a psychiatrist. In my case an ENT is also involved. Most places treatment is available. We have to take responsibility for finding the proper treatment.
  • I recently told my doctor that I wondered if my fatigue was bordering on or blurring with some depression. Ask we talked he reminded me that the past year had a lot of events with my copd along with other major life events before that.

    One the best things for anyone is to start the conversation about how you feel. I’m glad that I finally did after pondering it too long. It’s not some admission of guilt rather an acceptance of an illness and seeking some form of help.

  • Yes we r here believe me i do understand i have four boys that smoke i have almost screamed at them to quit and they will not
    Depression is real and i feel like everyone could care less but i do. Care
  • As my breathing got worse, so did my depression. I started to just cry for no reason all the time. I was either having trouble sleeping or was sleeping too much. I had a feeling of doom that seem to take over me. It got really bad, I wasn't eating right, I just felt aweful. I finally, went to my neighbor who I knew works for the county mental health department. She gave me the information and I called and made an appointment to see someone. It is important to get help and talk to someone. I am glad that I did. They helped me understand my depression and why it was happening.