Mental health is an important aspect of everyone’s well-being, but especially for those living with pulmonary fibrosis (PF). Research has shown that individuals with PF are at an increased risk for developing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Fortunately, research is also showing ways to reduce that risk. 

Read on to explore recent studies on the connection between PF and mental health, and see our related blogs about mental health to discover tips for incorporating mental health into your treatment plan.

What’s the connection between mental health and lung health? According to research, the connection between mental well-being and lung health is clear: if you live with a lung condition, you’re more likely to experience mental health challenges. 

  • One study published by Frontiers in Medicine found that patients with IPF tend to (1) have an increased risk for developing depression and (2) experience poor quality of life. The study calls for future research that addresses the importance of incorporating mental health treatments into patients’ overall treatment plan. Read more about the study here.
  • In another study published in BMC Pulmonary Medicine, depression and anxiety were found to be relatively common in patients with IPF. The study suggests that depression and anxiety significantly influence the quality of life of patients with IPF. Read more about the study here.

Why is there a connection between mental health and lung health? While it’s difficult to determine the cause of mental health challenges, patients with PF often report a variety of social, behavioral, emotional, and psychological challenges stemming from PF. This can be tied to physical limitations, social isolation, medication side effects, chronic stress, and more. Any or all of these factors can impact your mental well-being. 

Here are some specific reasons people with PF may be more likely to experience poor mental well-being: 

  • It’s harder to do the same activities or live the same lifestyle as before your diagnosis (or the onset of symptoms).
  • Knowing you have PF may impact your self-esteem, your relationship with relatives, your interactions with friends, your role at work, and more.
  • It literally feels hard to breathe (plus it may be hard to get rest if you’re anxious about whether you’ll be able to breathe).
  • It’s difficult accepting or relying on support from caregivers or relatives.
  • It may feel frustrating to try finding the right care from PF specialists – or to need medical care at all.
  • Certain medications or treatments may cause side effects which impact quality of life.
  • The future may seem uncertain, hopeless, or depressing.

A study published in Respiratory Research recommends that behavioral issues, health literacy, and psychological well-being should be taken into consideration when providing care to PF patients. The study suggests that there is a need to explore interventions and care models to tackle these difficulties. Learn more about the study here.

How does mental health affect PF symptoms? Research shows a common cycle that patients with PF face: physical symptoms can exacerbate mental health challenges, thereby making it more difficult to manage symptoms appropriately, resulting in worse feelings physically and mentally. 

For instance, if you’re anxious about symptoms like coughing or feeling out of breath, you may      avoid exercise, breathing exercises, or other activities shown to increase lung capacity – which could lead to worsening of those very same symptoms. 

As another example, if it’s difficult for you to travel or navigate public environments (due to supplemental oxygen equipment, inability to walk long distances, breathlessness, etc.) you may avoid social situations entirely and become isolated, and then notice significant reductions in the quality of your social and emotional life. 

Here’s another relatable scenario: if your symptoms flare, your mental health may suffer in the form of low energy, lack of interest or motivation, and upset moods. This can make it harder to stick with your usual routines or rituals for managing PF (including but not limited to nutrition, exercise, breathing exercises, mindfulness). With poorer management, respiratory symptoms may flare more so, leading to worse mental well-being, and so on. 

Ultimately, the way you cope with PF directly relates to mental health. Having PF may affect your ability to manage mental health; similarly, having a mental health concern may affect your ability to manage and treat PF. See the graphic below for a depiction of the feedback loop researchers have identified:

Image From The National Library of Medicine

Have researchers identified anything that can help end the vicious cycle depicted above? Yes, there are several proven ways to break the cycle and to nurture your own mental health, such as…

  • Seeking support from a mental health specialist and from PF specialists.
  • Learning to describe how you’re feeling, and discuss with those who can help you feel understood.
  • Developing ways to cope with daily life and improve quality of life.
  • Staying active.
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation.
  • Implementing other self-care strategies into your daily routine.

Read more research recommendations at the NIH fact sheet here.

How can you advocate for better mental health right now? If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health symptoms related to PF, it is important to seek help. Speak with a PF specialist, join a support group, or take advantage of resources such as free, private screenings at Remember, you are not alone – together, we can fight PF Now!

Stay In Touch

PF NOW! hosts a virtual support group on Teams every month. Not only will you strengthen your network of connections but you’ll learn firsthand how those with PF best look after themselves. PF NOW! also has a Facebook group whose active community shares their PF journey and their tips with others. New to online support groups? Download our free step-by-step guide for online advocacy here.

Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information received from us.

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