The current pandemic has emphasized the need for all of us to pay attention to our mental health. Depression and anxiety are common bedfellows, and the incidence has risen sharply over concerns about COVID-19 exposure and the social isolation needed to help control the spread of this disease.

What many patients and physicians do not appreciate is that mental health issues are the most common co-morbidity associate with COPD and, in that context, impact the quality of life and adherence to treatment for the COPD patient. Despite this high prevalence of depression and anxiety in COPD, depression and anxiety often go unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated. Changes in breathing patterns, hyperinflation, and dynamic hyperinflation associated with anxiety, often contribute to a downward spiral of disease progression. Depression has been associated with increased mortality in the general population as well as COPD patients. The combination of depression and anxiety is even more deadly.

Recognizing the problem is the first step in helping to resolve the problem. Physicians need to be more attuned to the presence of these mental health issues, which often times go unexpressed by the patient. An even larger issue is how to combat the problems of depression and anxiety in patients with a chronic and debilitating disease, such as COPD. Medications may be helpful, but professional counseling and family involvement also need to play a role.

If you are a patient with COPD and are depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor or family member about your feelings.