Depression and anxiety disorders are slowly being recognized by the public as disorders to take seriously, not only for the deleterious effects that they have on mental health of sufferers, but also for the consequences that they have on physical health.
Amongst a number of other illnesses, asthma has now been shown to be linked to depression and anxiety. The results of a new study have shown that adults with higher levels of depression and anxiety are more than twice as likely to develop asthma as those with lower levels.
It is widely believed that asthma is a complicated illness with attacks that may be brought on by a complex combination of psychological, physiological and immune-system related factors, but much research is still needed in this area. This new study now lends support to the theory that there is indeed a psychological component to asthma.
Other risk factors for asthma include certain respiratory symptoms, impaired lung function and smoking. When these were ruled out, patients with higher levels of depression and anxiety were three times as likely to develop asthma as those with lower levels, though this is not to say that depression and anxiety do not play a role in the development of asthma in people with other risk factors.
According to Dr Bruce Jonas, PhD, a mental health epidemiologist with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics: "For patients with pre-existing risk factors for asthma, it is still possible that anxiety and depression may indirectly relate to asthma, because even though we could not establish a direct link, it could still mean that anxiety and depression at baseline could have been players at elevating some of the readings that then led to asthma. Anxiety and depression are part of a multi-coloured beast. It is a well-known fact that people with anxiety and depression are less likely to take care of themselves."
Whether or not depression and anxiety actually play a part in the development of asthma, the fact higher levels of these illnesses were reported in asthma sufferers is important, as studies have shown that patients who are depressed experience greater distress, more impaired functioning, and less ability to comply with medical regimes. Having depression in conjunction with another disorder leads to complications and can be an obstacle to a full recovery and return to normal life. It is vital that, under these circumstances, both conditions are treated. This can improve the psychological condition of the patient, enhance their quality of life, improve compliance with medications, and reduce suffering.
This shows the importance of recognizing depression and anxiety and seeking treatment early, although this can sometimes be more difficult when the patient is suffering from another medical illness. The warning signs of depression and anxiety are often masked by the other disease, and some people even assume that feelings of depression and anxiety are normal for people struggling with serious health conditions. This is not true. If you suspect that depression or anxiety may be part of your problem, it is advisable to consult a mental health professional to make sure. The Depression and Anxiety Support Group can be contacted, Mondays to Fridays, between 8am and 7pm, and on Saturdays, between 8am and 5pm, on (011) 783 – 1474/6, for more information, telephone counselling, and referrals to appropriate mental health professionals.
If you, a loved one or friend is suffering from asthma, the chances of you having depression or an anxiety disorder are higher. Look out for the following warning signs and remember that treatment for the co-occurring depression or anxiety disorder could mean the difference between a fuller ‘normal’ life and permanent disability.
· Persistent sad or ‘empty’ mood
· Feelings of guilt, helplessness and worthlessness
· Restlessness and irritability
· Sleep disturbances
· Weight disturbances
· Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
· Sense of being overwhelmed by fright and terror, with accompanying physical distress for between four and six minutes, sometimes longer
· Racing or pounding heart
· Chest pains
· Dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea
· Difficulty breathing
· Tingling or numbness in the hands
· Flushes or chills
· Sense of unreality
· Fear of losing control, going ‘crazy’, or doing something embarrassing
· Fear of dying