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The link between black lung disease and depression

by | Dec 6, 2021 | Black Lung

Black lung disease is a deadly illness that lacks a cure. Countless coal miners throughout Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia have been stricken by the disease that has impacted every aspect of their lives.

Physical issues surrounding black lung are only a part of their medical issues. In addition to the physical ravages it causes on hard-working coal miners, additional medical issues are also sounding the alarm to the entire plight coal miners face.

Alarming statistics paint a dire picture

A recent study published by University of Virginia researchers reveals that those suffering from black lung also deal with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly those who saw mine walls collapsing. Shortness of breath, common in black lung cases, can play a significant role in triggering a miner to feel anxious.

Approximately 2,800 miners fill out a voluntary mental health survey, with the average age of the respondents at 66.

Results revealed the following:

  • More than 37 percent admitted to having symptoms consistent with major depression
  • More than 1,000 patients (38.9 percent) suffered from “clinically significant anxiety”
  • More than a quarter of workers experienced PTSD symptoms
  • More than 11.4 percent (295 patients) considered suicide in 2020

The rates of mental illness are alarming. Numbers significantly exceeded other coal mining populations throughout the world. Also impacting the numbers were those suffering more serious black lung illnesses that required supplemental oxygen. Nearly half of those patients noted anxiety, with another 48.5 percent reporting depression. Almost 16 percent considered suicide.

The more severe the black lung diagnoses, the higher rate of mental illness symptoms. Also playing a role is the industry’s continuing decline that saw communities dealing with increased poverty while also lacking resources for mental health care. Areas where mental health professionals were accessible found workers reluctant to talk to them.

A cure for black lung disease is the priority. In the meantime, addressing the psychological trauma that coal miners face after being diagnosed should also be an essential step to maintain a better quality of life.