Manage your depression

Asthma getting you down? Or is depression having an effect on your asthma?

If you're feeling depressed, you're not alone. One in five people in the UK is affected by depression at some point in their lives.

Whether it's your asthma getting you down or your depression having an effect on your asthma, we hope this section can be a stepping stone to help you start feeling well again.

You can also visit our support network page for a full list of organisations that offer free and confidential information and advice.

What is depression?

People often use the word "depression" to describe feeling a bit low or fed up. Everyone can feel down at times and for most people these feelings usually pass quite quickly.

If you have depression, these feelings go on for longer and start to have an effect on your enjoyment of life. You might find it hard to cope with everyday activities or have physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, a lack of energy, general aches and pains, or muscle tension. If you're feeling depressed you may not be managing your asthma as well.

Depression can be triggered by events such as a loved one, friend or colleague dying, divorce, redundancy or long-term illness. Sometimes hormones can cause depression – for example, after you’ve had a baby. This is called post-natal depression. Some people get depressed in the winter due to a lack of natural light. This is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Sometimes there's no obvious reason why someone gets depressed.

Whatever’s triggering your depression, it's important to get help, especially if you've had depression before, if the feelings last for more than a few days and/or if they're affecting your everyday life.

Some of the common symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling tired or lacking in energy
  • Feeling low or sad for a long time
  • Not sleeping well
  • Feeling tearful
  • Not wanting to be with people
  • Feeling angry with people
  • Not wanting to do things
  • Eating, drinking or sleeping more or less than usual
  • Using alcohol or drugs, or smoking more than usual
  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
  • Feeling restless or agitated and anxious
  • Not liking or taking care of yourself
  • Being unable to concentrate
  • Feeling guilty and blaming yourself for things
  • Lack of confidence
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Changes to your menstrual cycle
  • Feeling negative with a bleak outlook
  • Being unable to enjoy things you usually enjoy.

If you spot some of these, talk to someone about how you feel – perhaps a partner, someone in your family, or a friend. Or make an appointment to see your GP so you can talk through your symptoms together and work out the best plan for you.

Is depression making your asthma worse?

Keeping emotionally well is important because strong emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress and depression can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms.

It’s easy to go round in circles: you feel depressed, depression leaves you feeling tired and unmotivated to look after your asthma properly, your asthma symptoms get worse and you then feel more worried and less able to cope – and on it goes.

You don’t have to put up with depression - you can:

  • Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about how you’re feeling so you can get the all-round help and support you need. Don’t be afraid to admit how you’re feeling – depression, along with anxiety and stress, is very common and nothing to be ashamed of – and it can affect how you manage your asthma. Your GP may be able to prescribe treatment for your depression to help lift your mood. 
  • If you don’t feel you’re able to talk to your GP about how you’re feeling, write it down and take the note to an appointment.
  • Make sure your written asthma action plan is up to date so you’re more likely to stay well with your asthma.
  • Take small steps towards feeling well again: keep active, eat healthy foods, do something you enjoy and get into a good bedtime routine, for example. 
  • Talk to other people who have asthma about how they feel too – join our HealthUnlocked community
  • Call our Helpline and speak to one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (9am – 5pm; Mon – Fri).

Is your asthma making you depressed?

Everyone reacts differently to an illness or a long-term condition. Having asthma can be frightening, especially if it’s new to you, or if you experience regular or severe symptoms.

For some people, having asthma can result in anxiety, extreme tiredness and even shame. It can lead to problems in other areas of life, such as work - perhaps they worry about having to take too much sick leave. Students with asthma may be upset about missing too many lessons or failing exams following asthma attacks.

There are research studies suggesting that depression is far more common among people with asthma than people without it.

You don’t have to put up with asthma symptoms - you can:

  • Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about how your asthma is affecting your life and how that makes you feel.
  • Make sure you see your GP or asthma nurse at least once a year for an asthma review to help you stay on top of your asthma.
  • Talk through your written asthma action plan with your GP or asthma nurse so you can check you’re taking the right medicines at the right doses in the right way and at the right times. If you feel in control of your asthma, you may feel better emotionally too.
  • Ask your GP or asthma nurse to check your inhaler technique so you know you’re using your inhaler(s) in best way and getting the full benefits of the medicines.

Can asthma medicines cause depression?

Some people tell us their asthma medicine makes them feel more depressed, or they have mood swings because they take it.

For some people who take steroid tablets for their asthma, depression can be a side effect, although the risk of this side effect goes down as the dose is reduced or stopped.

If you’re depressed, it’s understandable that you may be worried about using medicines that list depression as a possible side effect. However, it’s important to take steroid tablets exactly as prescribed and until you’re completely better. If you stop taking them earlier than your GP, asthma nurse or consultant has prescribed, you might end up taking higher doses of steroids in the long run.

Using steroid tablets in the long-term can have other side effects, too, such as weight gain, moon face (a bloated face) and thin skin. Sometimes these side effects can leave people feeling depressed. If this is the case for you, speak to your GP, asthma nurse or consultant about how you’re feeling as soon as possible.

Remember that steroid tablets will only be prescribed if your GP, asthma nurse or consultant thinks that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Last updated June 2016

Next review due June 2019