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RA And Depression: Either, Either, Neither, Nor, Both, And?

A friend recently shared with me an article from The Guardian titled, “Is depression a kind of allergic reaction?

The gist of the article is that depression is a result of inflammation, which is caused by the immune system.  It specifically pinpoints RA patients as being more likely to suffer from depression.

This should come as no surprise that those of us with RA have higher rates of depression.

Wouldn’t you if your life went from taking everyday tasks for granted to making them nearly impossible to complete?

This is a chicken and egg thing.  Am I depressed because I’m sick or am I sick because I’m depressed?  To me, this line of thinking leads to victim-blaming.  It puts the onus on the individual person.

If only I could get happy…

If only I cut out dairy and wheat out of my diet, I would feel so much better…

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that these things don’t work for some people.  But I think it’s misleading to suggest that any one thing will be the sole cause of someone’s RA going into remission or even being cured.

Let’s not forget about environmental factors.  And thankfully the collective of humans on earth, both those before us and those of us here now, are to blame.  We can’t look at any one person and blame them singlehandedly for the environmental issues that exist today – and that I strongly believe do contribute to the rise in autoimmune-related disorders.

But it is easy to blame individuals for their demeanor or outlook or way of life.

The article also makes the point that there is a lot of stigma when it comes to depression – and that by viewing it as a physical disease – you remove that stigma.

The article seems to be saying that if we just call depression RA, it will take all of the stigma away from depression.  And basically seeks to put more on RA.

But what about the stigma that surrounds RA?  What about the fact that to the average eye, RA is an invisible disease?  What about the fact that most of the general public thinks RA is a disease of old people?  How many in this community have been targeted for using handicapped spots by judge-y people who don’t see that they need them?

This article almost suggests that only illnesses viewed as psychological have stigma, but not illnesses that are viewed as physical.  And that’s absolutely not true in many cases, including RA.

Unfortunately, the commenting on this article was closed, otherwise I would have provided my two cents.

However, I went through every comment (over 700 of them) and only a few were from people that have RA.  The rest were written by people with depression.  The only reason I make that distinction is because I think many people support the view that there is a physiological cause to depression – and based on the title of the article, you wouldn’t necessarily assume that RA would be singled out.  I definitely wouldn’t have ended up reading this article if a friend hadn’t sent it to me asking me my opinion about it.

And my opinion is honestly not that favorable, which I would have happily shared if the commenting was still open.

I particularly didn’t like the fact that RA was singled out, nor did I feel that there was an adequate explanation provided as to the complex processes that are involved with any illness – psychological, physiological, environmental, etc.

Ultimately, do depression and inflammation have a connection?  It’s possible.  But to single out RA really rubs me the wrong way.

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.


  • Ava
    5 years ago

    I too just read the article I find great offense in the fact that they assume that people with RA lay around an fill themselves with sugar an everything we shouldn’t put in our bodies but yet still suffer the effects we do on a daily basis because thats what we want to do… Please this is not the life we chose, it has been chosen for us.. this article seems to say we have the choice.. Yes, there are things we can do to help are selves, but we did not choose to have this is our lives…And I have lived with depression for years, even as a child, so just having RA has made it worse, not because Ive laid on a couch an ate potato chips and did nothing.. I try to be a very active, person, but every time I get to be active, I get something, and the cycle starts all over.. so yes, it is depressing, how can it not be… it robs you of your life, you, your self worth.. The people writing that article, have never lived a day in our shoes or they would know the true suffering of a RA patient.. I have had RA now for over 11 years, so this is not new for me.. I pray for the people who have this disease and read articles like this that make you feel less of a person for maybe having RA, and depression, they go hand in hand regardless of some mindless article..May you find peace in this disease, you must make it your own and deal with it in your own way…

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    5 years ago

    Right. The two are connected, as you say, but I am not at all sure why they picked RA as the condition to talk about. Seems like whoever wrote the article was completely clueless.

  • Wren moderator
    5 years ago

    Seems to me that inflammation in the body tends to cause discomfort, pain, and fatigue. When you’re feeling cruddy, your hands hurt so that anything you do with them makes you wince and groan, and you feel like your get-up-and-go got up and went, feeling rather blue seems pretty logical.

    When your body hurts–often, or nearly all the time like it can with RA–it seems stranger to me that one wouldn’t be depressed! And there are many, many conditions, syndromes, and diseases that can be named in an article like this, not just RA.

    I wonder why they chose it as the illustrative condition? And then there’s the other side of it: sometimes, my labs show that my inflammation is well under control, and yet I’m still experiencing pain and fatigue. If this were the Gong Show, they’d be dragging this article right off the stage.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    5 years ago

    I love the visual of the Gong Show, Wren! I can totally see it.

  • Jane Burbach
    5 years ago

    They always seem to mention depression and anxiety as comorbid with RA. I am not sure if RA is the most common autoimmune disease maybe that is why they brought it up. It has decent name recognition.

    RA can definitely be depressing – for a multitude of reasons which we are all familiar with. But the experience of other inflammatory autoimmune diseases must be similar.

    A friend with depression shared it with me due to the RA mention and she shared with a couple of others who have depression.

    The ones with depression commented that it wouldn’t matter if depression were linked to autoimmunity because of the blame the victim mentality that is so prevalent among the able-bodied / able-minded. Lol, they must know some of my relatives and friends!

  • Jane Burbach
    5 years ago

    A friend who has depression shared the depression article with me. It rubbed me the wrong way too.

    Some people assume I am depressed because I am not able to do as much as I used to and I live in a state of fatigue.

    I am not depressed as a rule but feel depressed sometimes. It seems to be the result of dealing with chronic pain and fatigue.

    Some people in my family thought depression was the root of my issues prior to diagnosis. They did not understand at all. Some still do not.

    I cannot speak for other diseases but they say people with heart disease are more prone to depression.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    5 years ago

    Jane, I’m glad someone else read that article, and I’m glad you read it the way I did. Like I said, I think it’s a chicken and egg thing, but mostly, I feel like it’s a potentially dangerous argument to make.

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