CF is complex and often impacts emotional and mental health. Understanding changes in wellbeing and identifying changes in behavior can assist in managing your mental health. It is common for people to move from feeling like they are thriving in life, to coping to struggling and back again. Daily hassles and stressors can influence where people are on the spectrum and feelings of anxiety and depression are normal responses to challenging situations. However, if they become chronic or start to impact behaviour, it is recommended you seek professional help.
What is mental health?
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
People who have, or care for someone who has CF, are in a higher risk category for poor mental health due to the ongoing associated stresses of CF. Declining mental health can impact adherence, clinic attendance, quality of life, exacerbations, and mortality. Being aware of the risks and having strategies in place can help.
Signs of good mental health include:
- feeling confident when faced with new situations or people
- feeling optimistic
- not always blaming yourself
- feeling good about yourself
- having good self-esteem
- setting goals
Maintaining good mental health
Mental health is complex. Just like keeping physically fit, you constantly need to work at it using a range of strategies and approaches. Strategies that help maintain good mental health include:
Eating well decreases inflammation in the body and plays an important role in your overall health and wellbeing. Foods affect your mood, energy levels and concentration.
Regular physical activity can be a good way to boost your mood, reduce stress, and improve sleep. It is also known to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Our sleeping patterns can affect how well we feel throughout the day. Each person’s required amount may differ, so aim for what’s best for you.
Good relationships can make us feel safe, loved, and provide a sense of belonging and maintain wellbeing. Often, we learn the skills to manage life’s difficulties with our family. Think quality over quantity.
Community involvement provides a sense of belonging and social connectedness. It can also offer extra meaning and purpose to everyday life.
Helping others can help you feel more connected and valued.
Being grateful, present in the moment, and empathetic improves and maintains feelings of well-being by producing feelings of calm, contentment, and peace.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity and involves the process of “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. Whilst difficult life events can be hard, they don’t need to determine your life. You have the ability to control, modify and learn alongside these challenges. That is the role of resilience. By using good communication, keeping things in perspective, self-regulating, and using self-awareness, a person is able to strengthen their emotional and mental resilience.
The CF clinics that we work closely with, often report on patients with CF being some of the most resilient people they care for and interact with. This feedback is frequently and consistently given. There is huge respect and appreciation for what people with CF endure and a common theme of gratitude, patience, and dark humour within the community.
Hear from members on maintaining good mental health
Learn more about health and wellbeing below
What is mental illness?
About one in five Australians will experience a mental illness at one point in their lives. Mental illness is a general term that refers to a group of illnesses, in the same way that any other disease is categorised and includes anxiety, depression, and mood, eating, and personality disorders. Mental illness significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people and is diagnosed according to standardised criteria, by a registered clinician.
Most mental illnesses can be effectively treated. Recognising early signs and symptoms of mental illness and accessing effective treatment early is important. The earlier treatment starts, the better the outcome. Episodes of mental illness can come and go during different periods in people’s lives. Some people experience only one episode of illness and fully recover. For others, it recurs throughout their lives.
Mental health problems are less severe than mental illnesses but can develop into more severe illnesses if they are not treated effectively.
”Seek help as early as possible. If you feel out of sorts all the time for more than two weeks, then it’s time to talk to someone. The earlier you address how you feel, the easier it gets to manage it. Ask your loved ones if they’ve noticed a change. Often, anxiety and depression manifest as irritability, reactive mood, avoidance, over-thinking and excessive drinking. So, if you notice that it’s harder to relax, everything is getting on your nerves and you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to talk to your team.CF psychologist on when to seek help
Anxiety is common and people tend to feel anxious when challenging situations are presented, such as speaking publicly or having an operation. Although feeling anxious is unpleasant, it helps people avoid dangerous situations and motivate them to solve everyday problems or challenges.
Anxiety is mainly caused by perceived threats in the environment (will the plane crash after take-off) as opposed to real threats (there is an actual bear in front of me). Anxiety can vary from mild uneasiness to debilitating panic attacks and can result from genetic factors, environmental factors, situational factors, learned behaviours, side effects of medications, relationship issues, trauma and some medical conditions.
People with CF often experience anxiety around issues such as
- health fluctuations and changes
- new diagnosis e.g. CF Related Diabetes (CFRD), continence issues, low lung function
- difficulty maintaining normal activities such as work and relationships
- poor body image
- lung transplant and/or fear of death
- needle phobia and fear of invasive surgery
- bad news e.g. new bug, lowered lung function
- haemoptysis (coughing up of blood from a source below the glottis) or pneumothorax (the presence of air or gas between the lungs and chest)
Common symptoms of anxiety
Depending on the severity and type of anxiety the symptoms are varied. These can include:
- racing mind, decreased concentration and memory, indecisiveness, confusion
- unrealistic or excessive fear and worry (about past and present)
- irritability, feeling on edge, nervous, feel out of body
- avoiding certain situations
- increase in alcohol and drug use to ease feelings
- pounding heart, chest pain, blushing, nausea, diarrhoea, shaking, dizziness, and tingling
- Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), phobias (specific and social), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A wide range of treatments have shown significant improvements in treating anxiety disorders. Seeking treatment from a psychologist using Behaviour Therapy (exposure therapy), Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (retraining thoughts), self-help books, computerised therapy (self-help online treatments), medications and relaxation training.
If you think you may have anxiety, try one of the checklists below.
Everyone feels sad, moody or low at times. These are normal feelings to stressors, difficult times and bad days. Dealing with a chronic illness is not easy and can feel overwhelming, frustrating, disappointing and unfair. Fluctuations in health and having to constantly maintain health is challenging. As a result, this can impact good mental health. Generally, people can bounce back after a few rough days of the ‘blues’. However, if feelings of sadness and low mood persist for more than 2-4 weeks, then it might be worthwhile taking steps to address this.
Depression affects 4.1% of Australians in any given year, and having a long term or chronic illness is a risk factors for depression (Mental Health First Aid Australia, 2020). Depression can also be a result of genetic factors, side effects of certain medications, significant trauma, financial pressures, job loss, relationship issues and divorce, and hormonal changes.
People with CF may experience depression due to
- feeling isolated and lonely
- health deterioration
- new diagnosis
- difficulty maintaining normal activities such as work and relationships
- lung transplant and/or fear of death
Common symptoms of depression
Each person who suffers from depression experiences it differently. Depression can range from mild to severe. If you have depression, some symptoms you might experience include:
- having a low mood (feeling down) for longer than two weeks
- not getting enjoyment or losing interest in things that you usually get pleasure from
- difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- negative self-talk
- lack of energy, or feeling constantly tired
- isolating from social activities
- having feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- difficulty sleeping
A wide range of treatments have shown significant improvements in treating depression. Firstly, it’s recommended you speak to your doctor or clinical team. They may refer you to a psychologist or other health professional to discuss strategies and therapies, and/or give medications to stabilise moods.
- A variety of health professionals can help with depression;
- Mental Health Nurses
- Reduce time on social media. Often what we see can make us feel worse
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol and drug intake
- Open up: write in a journal, speak with friends and loved ones
- Enjoy nature: the environment is powerful
- Exercise: exercise stimulates serotonin which is the ‘feel good’ hormone
What happens if anxiety and depression are left untreated?
- inability to stay on track with treatment regimens and consequently worse health outcomes; research indicates a direct correlation between good mental health and adherence to treatment.
- lack of engagement in the workforce
- low motivation
- risky behaviour
- decline in relationship quality
- increased hospitalisations and healthcare costs.
Resources for anxiety and depression
Lifeline 24hr Counselling and Chat Crisis Support
Trained crisis support workers 24/7.
13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service
Free nationwide professional telephone service available 24/7.
1300 659 467
24/7 Counselling service for men with relationship and family concerns.
1300 78 99 78
Beyond Blue Support Services
24/7 Counselling service.
1300 224 636
PANDA supports women, men and families across Australia affected by anxiety and depression during pregnancy and the early years of parenthood.
9am-7:30pm Monday to Friday AEST.
1300 726 306
Cognitive Behaviour website teaches people useful ways to prevent and reduce symptoms of depression. It is designed for people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression teaching users strategies to manage feelings and thoughts.
Head to Health
Government website with information from those suffering with mental health issues, mental health organisations, evidence based apps, online programs, forums, phone chat and email service.