Study links asthma to higher rates of depression

The debilitating affect of asthma on physical and mental health is captured in a new study which found that three out of five adults with the condition experience depressive symptoms.

One in five were also left unable to work due to poor health, according to the research commissioned by the Asthma Society of Ireland, drug maker Novartis, and University College Cork.

Lead researcher Dr Mary Hughes said the inability to work had a significant impact on productivity. Previous studies have shown loss of productivity in the workforce and at school due to asthma-related illness is 12 days per adult, and 10 days per child per year.

Health Service Executive figures show the cost to the exchequer per hospital admission is €2,737.

Dr Hughes said their findings also showed the percentage of asthma sufferers experiencing depressive symptoms was far higher than the general population based on a comparison with the 2007 Survey on Lifestyle and Attitude to Nutrition (SLÁN).

“SLÁN found 6% of the population experienced depression. Our research found 61% of adults with asthma experienced depressive symptoms. We are wondering why this is the case and we are certainly interested in investigating further,” she said.

SLÁN’s findings relate to those diagnosed with major depression. The new study also reveals that four in five adults felt their physical health was limited as a result of their asthma; 6% admitted to feeling depressed “most of the time”; 10% felt “much more limited” in comparison to others their age; more than half (54%) said they “felt despair” over their health at some stage. In addition, 9% revealed that sleep was the daily activity they felt was most interfered with.

David Hevey, associate professor in psychology at Trinity College Dublin, said there were many psychological challenges associated with living with asthma including a sense of shame.

“Asthma is associated with elevated rates of clinical depression, clinical anxiety, and panic; indeed asthma patients have twice the rate of suicide mortality than those without asthma,” said Dr Hevey.

He said it also restricted ability to perform activities of daily living, that “fear of becoming breathless may lead to avoidance of activities and social isolation”. It was “critically important that individuals receive sufficient formal and informal support” he said.

The level of support promised under the National Programme for Asthma has a long way to go, according to Asthma Society of Ireland’s CEO Sharon Cosgrove: “The main thing that has happened to date is the extension of free GP care to under sixes which entitles them to a structured cycle of care.”

The care includes an initial consultation at age two and a number of subsequent reviews. However there had been little movement, Ms Cosgrove said, on the roll-out of an integrated care programme linking care of asthma patients in hospital with their care in the community.

The programme was due for rollout at James Connolly Hospital in Dublin and in Mullingar, but Ms Cosgrove said they were still awaiting the appointment of specialist nurses.


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