Asthma and mental health impacts highlighted in youth
9 Apr 2019
As youth weeks roll out across the country, young people with asthma are being encouraged to reclaim their breath and their confidence by putting asthma in its place.
Asthma affects 2.7 million Australians and of those, 300,000 are youth, shown to have double the risk of experiencing mental health issues, in comparison to their peers without asthma.
A link between poorly controlled asthma and increased levels of anxiety, social isolation and depression in youth has been found in a national survey commissioned by Asthma Australia, sparking the organisation to fund an App to better support young people.
The Kiss My Asthma App, designed for young people by young people together with the University of Sydney, aims to tackle poor health and wellbeing rates of youth aged 12-24 years living with asthma.
Melbourne based singer and performer Alannah Woods said it was important young people had options for self-help.
“It’s something I’m conscious of wherever I go,” said Alannah.
“To have something on my phone, that I have with me all time to monitor my asthma, helps me to understand and manage it better, she said.
Alannah said she faced troubles when she was younger, with medication affecting her voice.
“My voice sounded terrible because of the medication I was on. I stopped taking my preventer and everything just got worse.
“My advice is speak up, don’t keep asthma a secret and don’t let it control you. There are so many options out there to help. I’m now singing at the top of my lungs,” she said.
“I think parents, doctors and the community need to better understand what it means to be a young person with a condition like asthma and how to support them,” Alannah added.
Research shows in a young person, the health and wellbeing impacts of a chronic illness such as asthma are heightened by the social, psychological and developmental challenges posed by adolescence.
For a young person with poorly controlled asthma, its impacts were shown to extend to work life, social life, sport and study with one survey respondent saying “My boss needs to understand asthma when I am late for my part time job.” 19 year old male, Queensland.
Alannah Woods said an App was helpful to identify the link between asthma and mental health.
“You might not know that asthma is having such an impact on you but to see it in front of you is really helpful,” Alannah said.
CEO of Asthma Australia Michele Goldman said young people with asthma shouldn’t be prohibited from reaching their full potential.
“Asthma should not be a disability,” she said.
“If something is not quite right and you need more support, the App can help with this. It’s also perfectly okay to ask for help, that’s why we’re here. Our friendly asthma educators are happy to discuss any concerns or questions you have.”
“You should know there are plenty of medical options and lifestyle choices to support you,” Ms Goldman said “You can message us on Instagram or Facebook if you prefer.”
She said adolescence is a critical time in life when future patterns of health promoting behaviours set in.
“Through our national survey we found internet options for health advice are preferred by young people compared with other interventions.
“We had to act in light of the alarming results uncovered by our Asthma Australia National Survey of Youth with Asthma. Almost all respondents had poorly controlled asthma and then there are the cascading impacts like interrupted sleep and so forth. It shows that overall youth, at the present time, have a lower quality of life than those without asthma. We really need to change this, and it is possible with the right support system in place,” Ms Goldman said.
Now her asthma is under control, Alannah Woods is able to pursue her dream career in the Melbourne performing arts scene.
17% of school-aged teens living with asthma reported taking time off because of symptoms.
Even though a quarter of survey respondents didn’t take their medication because they ‘felt well’, almost all respondents had experienced breathlessness in the past four weeks.
Through Youth Weeks across Australia, Asthma Australia is promoting better asthma control via the Kiss My Asthma App using social media and events.
Download the Kiss My Asthma app via the Apple Store.
To watch the Kiss My Asthma campaign videos, like Asthma Australia’s Facebook or Instagram page or to share these at your youth week event, contact Asthma Australia on firstname.lastname@example.org
To talk with an Asthma Australia Educator about your asthma and how you’re impacted, call the 1800 ASTHMA Helpline (1800 278 462).
The Kiss My Asthma App, through the Asthma Management Program, received funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.
Alannah Woods, singer/actor based in Melbourne
Michele Goldman CEO Asthma Australia based in Sydney
From the National Young People and Asthma Survey Report, 2014
An online survey, carried out from May to July 2014, collected data on the health and wellbeing of young Australians aged 12 to 25 living with asthma as part of a wider, ongoing project to evaluate the effectiveness of NYPAS.
A total of 533 eligible young people with asthma responded to the survey.
People with asthma face a variety of challenges to their health and wellbeing. They also have a lower quality of life than people without asthma
The health and wellbeing of young people aged 12-25 with asthma has been found to be poorer than that of both their peers without asthma, and people with asthma of other ages
Almost all participants (90.5%) had experienced shortness of breath at least once or twice a week in the past four weeks.
Many of the participants reported experiencing regular symptoms which impacted on their sleep. Of all respondents, 70.9% reported waking up at night or earlier than usual in the morning due to symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain
56.1% reported that asthma hindered their enjoyment of life
It is clear from participants’ responses to the Asthma Control Score items that overall, their asthma is not well controlled.
Just under half of all participants have a written Asthma Action Plan, with 37.7% having used this plan.
Asthma had a measureable impact on young people’s attendance at school, University, TAFE and/or work. 41.8% had not attended these activities due to their asthma in the last twelve months.
Top three reasons for not taking asthma medications daily
- I don’t think I need to, because I feel well 137 (25.7%)
- The doctor didn’t tell me to take it every day 64 (12%)
- I forget to take it 59 (11.1%)
About the Kiss My Asthma App
The Kiss My Asthma App was designed by young people together with a team from the University of Sydney led by Associate Professor Lorraine Smith and included Professor Susan Sawyer, Dr Juliet Foster and Associate Professor Rafael Calvo as contributory investigators.
The National Young People and Asthma Strategy (NYPAS) is managed by Asthma Australia under the Asthma Child and Adolescent Program (ACAP) and funded by the Australian Government.