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Don’t Neglect Mental Health

Don’t Neglect Mental Health

Findings from a recent study indicate that rheumatoid arthritis causes mood disorders. While mood shifts come as no surprise because we are battling pain, limitations, and sleep deprivation, it is a reminder to get our “mental health check-up” as part of our care.

Rheumatoid arthritis and mental health

According to the study, 23% of patients with RA experienced cognitive dysfunction with 16% related to depression. A third of patients had sleep-related issues. The lead researcher suggested that mental health issues stem from grappling with stress and chronic pain, with a recommendation that mental health evaluations should be a regular practice in caring for RA patients.

Looking for mental health support

In my opinion, taking care of my mental health has been crucial for managing my RA. As a child, this was a huge issue because I was not equipped to handle such a huge issue. In retrospect, I wish that my doctor had offered mental health assessments and support to help me mature with my disease. A recent study agrees that RA patients want psychological support, but are usually not asked by their doctor.

A solid support system

I was fortunate that I had a terrific support system in my family. But it was also incredibly helpful in my later high school years to see a counselor and talk about my experience with rheumatoid arthritis, resulting disabilities, and impact on my life. These sessions helped me to understand how RA altered not only my childhood but entire life, how I was and could continue to adapt, and negotiate future emotional challenges.

RA impacts perspective

RA has fundamentally changed how I think and approach life. I know for a fact that when I am achy, in more pain or feeling especially stiff, that it alters my thinking. On these days I have to practice patience and slow myself down so that I don’t make hasty decisions or misunderstand a situation. I remember one day a number of years ago that I purchased some silly item because a salesperson called during a flare-up day! I learned not to answer calls from strangers on bad RA days, because after I was feeling better I realized my mistake and had to cancel the order!

For me, it’s not just my thinking, but my entire attitude can be influenced by RA—depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, exhaustion. As many of you know, RA is an emotional rollercoaster! It’s possible to get caught on a wild ride and feel out of control!

How I manage my mental health

Periodically, I seek to rebalance with the help of a psychologist. But there are other ways, such as taking time out for yourself, seeking support (or laughs) from friends and family, going on a relaxing vacation, or other mental-health supportive activities.

Checking in on mental health

One thing I like about my current rheumatologist is that he always asks how I am, not just meaning my joints and RA symptoms, but my mental and emotional health. He asks about my work, my family, my fun. These things should be a part of the care conversation because they contribute to our health. If I can manage my RA, along with my mental health, then I am in a better place for the long term.

The connection between physical and mental health

RA and mental health are inextricably entwined. (Another study indicates that psychological symptoms affects RA disease activity.) While the disease attacks our joints, it also challenges our minds to maintain a positive outlook, enjoy our lives, and not lose ourselves in the chaos caused by the illness.

Take the time to take care of your mind, and not just your body. Bring up mental health concerns with your doctor and seek out supports, such as therapy and medication. We are on a challenging journey and need to bolster ourselves along the way.

Sometimes I worry too much about asking for mental or emotional support, but as research verifies, it is an important part of caring for RA.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Sonia
    4 years ago

    I can’t believe that I have the same issue with depression but mine comes from feeling so helpless and tired all the time and not having the support system that alot of people seem to have, but I know I’m not alone. I became depressed because of the lack of help from family and friends. I guess I’m asking for too much just seems like nobody really understands or cares and they have their life no matter what they say they can’t take care of me there’s too much to do and not having any help with anything at home makes it very very depressing I’m just tired of trying. I was prescribed celexa butI don’t take them like I should I wish I could be more like others. they really don’t understand and it’s been almost 2 years

  • Jillian S moderator
    4 years ago

    Thank you for reaching out to us. We are so sorry to here that those close to you don’t understand what you are going through. RA can be extremely difficult to live with as it is and having no support must be really tough. Please know that our RA community is always here for you.
    You are never alone!
    As far as your medications, we strongly encourage you to speak with your doctor before stopping or changing any medications.

    I thought that you may be interested in this government agency which can help you find local support for depression:

    Also, here is an article on managing the emotions that often come along with chronic illness such as RA. I hope you find it helpful.

    Never hesitate to reach out to us- we are always here to talk.

    Wishing you a gentle evening.
    Jillian ( Team)

  • mp44sturm
    4 years ago

    I too, believe that mood disorder and chronic medical illness like RA seems to go hand in hand.

    There is a sense of loss, loss of things that other people take for granted. But then, because I look “normal”, people seem to find it hard to think that I feel a sense of loss, missing out on things that other people can do easily.

    It seems that the thing sparking interest in the world of medicine is inflammation. In particular, there is some thinking that inflammation plays a role in the onset of major depression.

    This is a link to a technical, but clear for educated laypeople to get the gist of:

    For me, it has been a very positive change with antidepressants. I take one called Cymbalta because not only does it take care of my problems with sleep, irritability and getting motivation to get things done that I need to, it also has pain modulating properties. I have never had as many joints hurting at one time, but I still want to go out and get things done in the garden, like pick at some weeds, cut flowers to take into the house.

    For my quality of life, I have decided long ago to say “yes” to antidepressants so that I am not wasting energy feeling crabby, not wasting energy apologizing to folks for acting cranky.

    For my mental health, I’ve also learned how to say “no” more easily so that I can spend more energy with the people I want to be with and do some of the things that I really want to do.

  • Sonia
    4 years ago

    Chinesebarbie, very good post I’m glad things are working out for you I wish I could be as positive as you

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