Man whose head is a carton of cigarette waving to a woman who ignores him

Reversing the Stigma of COPD

Are you one of the many COPD patients who are afraid to leave their own home? Getting out of your home can be a challenge both physically and mentally. It’s hard enough dealing with the daily breathlessness, but for many dealing with the judgement from the community can be just too much!

COPD stigma

The sense of “you did this to yourself” is very common in the general public. I have also struck this sentiment in the healthcare professional community as well. Many have the attitude, if you are a smoker and have COPD then what did you expect! With this attitude you can start to understand why COPD is such a poorly funded disease.

The question is: how do we change the way some people think of COPD? I was recently told of some doctors in my local hospital system who believed COPD patients don’t deserve the same level of care as other patients. I have personally been told, I deserved my disease because I used to smoke.

We don't deserve this disease

But here’s the question I like to fire back at people who believe we deserve our disease – “does everyone who makes poor lifestyle choices deserve their disease?” With so many chronic diseases caused by poor lifestyle choices, the “you deserve it mentality” makes no sense at all.

For example – if you have type 2 diabetes from a life of poor dietary choices, do you deserve to have diabetes? I think a more relevant question to ask people with COPD is what made you take up smoking? People take up smoking for a number of reasons, one of the main reasons I hear is stressful situations. In this scenario maybe, stress was how a patient ended up with COPD?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making excuses, I smoked, and the result was COPD! I remember the first puff I ever had on a cigarette with a group of friends. It was horrible, disgusting and I did not enjoy one bit of it. However, I was determined not to look uncool in front of my friends and pretended to enjoy. This became a habit until I actually started to enjoy smoking.

Having a different perception

I guess my point is maybe if people looked at what led a person to take up smoking rather than the act of smoking, they would have a different perception of COPD.

It’s important for COPD patients to come to terms with their disease and to be willing to change people’s perception. Taking responsibility for choices and explaining how they had come to make those choices are important! If we chose to hide away, nothing will change!

It will take time to change some people’s perception of COPD but in the long run patients will benefit. As a COPD advocate, I invite people to ask me about my disease. Regardless of their motive when asking questions about COPD it gives me a chance to explain my disease, how I contracted it and how I manage it.

It also gives me a chance to explain how underfunded COPD research is and regardless of a person’s opinion on COPD, more funding means better treatments, more education and less hospital admissions. Together this would see less burden on healthcare systems, a win for all the community.

Embrace your COPD, don’t hide it, get out and explain it, so people realise stigma helps nobody!

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