Did you know that 42% of people with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) are affected by depression? That’s 2-3 times the rate in the general population. Research shows that arthritis attacks the brain, not just the body, which helps us understand that depression is not just a state of mind.
Since the body-wide inflammation that occurs with RA does not spare the brain, this body/brain connection has become the subject of intense interest and research. It seems to make sense that living with a disease that causes chronic pain would lead to depression and anxiety, but researchers say it’s not that simple. So what came first, the chicken or the egg? Experts have not really sorted out whether pain makes you miserable or existing depression amplifies pain. But many do agree that pain, mobility, and depression are linked through a complex series of relationships.
What should you do if you have RA and depression? Talk to a family member or friend and bring him/her along with you to your doctor to discuss the arthritis/depression connection. Many doctors screen pain patients with a standardized depression screening scale and then move forward with coping strategies, pain medications, behavioral therapy and self-management programs.
Gillian Hawker, MD, chair of the department of medicine at the University of Toronto, has spent years studying pain in people with arthritis and believes in physical activity as the number one treatment. She says, “It doesn’t have to be vigorous activity, just gentle walking or moving your joints in the pool. That’s the No. 1 message. You can treat fatigue, depression and disability just by increasing physical activity.”
For more information, go to the Arthritis Foundation.