Respiratory diseases are the third highest cause of death in the United States. While many people do well living with the disease, especially if they go through a respiratory rehab program, the physical symptoms they feel and the knowledge they have that they illness could be fatal certainly gives them emotional dissonance. The facts show that people who have respiratory illnesses have much higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general population, and this, too, needs to be addressed so the patient can live a normal, stable life. Often it’s not clinical, and doesn’t require meds, but it still needs to be dealt with and cared for.
Anyone in a social, familial, or caregiving mode can supply the necessary emotional support during the rough times a patient might be experiencing. Here are some ways to do it.
- Lend an ear. It’s as simple as that. Part of what fuels depression is a feeling of loneliness, and the best way to help with that is to show her that you’re there for her. Let the patient speak, and validate those feelings, no matter what they are. Patients may be scared to let go and lay out their fears and worries, so some gentle encouragement can help, if the patient isn’t speaking. Studies show that patients with a strong social support network have much better outcomes than those that don’t.
- Get the family involved. Since the support network is so crucial to a patient’s emotional health, family members should be encouraged to get involved in the emotional care of their loved one. They’re with the patient more often than anyone else; the patient sees the doctor or therapist once or up to several times a week, but it’s the family who’s with them most of the time and has the ability to listen and validate.
- Not everyone is born with the natural capabilities of empathizing with others, so often people need to get educated before they can provide emotional support in the right way. There are many support groups for family members of someone who has a chronic disease, and clinicians should recommend and encourage family members to join groups and improve their skills in this area.
- Have a regular session with a psychotherapist or social worker who can help the patient deal with her problems from an emotional standpoint. Being able to speak openly and learning how to self-validate will help tremendously, and the patient will gain a full arsenal of tools to deal with the emotional aspects of her condition.
- Encourage therapeutic and artistic endeavors. While standard psychotherapy is a great outlet for letting out and dealing with emotions and fears, much of the process can be accomplished or continued through other forms of therapy. Some patients might be drawn toward drama or music, while others might enjoy painting and drawing. These can be ways for patients to release their hidden fears more subtly and therefore more intensely. It also keeps them from focusing too much on their troubles.
- Keep the patient busy. Aside from the therapeutic aspects of certain activities, being busy simply offers a level of distraction that keep’s the patient’s mind in an easier state. Cooking, walking (at her ability), continuing education, and games are all examples of activities the patient can get involved in that will be stimulating and engrossing.