The Connection between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Mental Health

rheumatoid Arthritis knee pain

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. It leads to inflammation that causes the tissue line present inside of the joint to thicken, resulting in swelling and pain in and around the joints. If this inflammation goes unchecked, it can damage the cartilage, and the joint spacing between bones can become smaller. It most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles.

In India itself, the prevalence rate of this condition is 1 million per year. It hits women at a much younger age than men. For women, rheumatoid arthritis occurs between the ages 30 and 60, whereas for men it happens much later in life.

When diagnosed with chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, it causes not only physical pain and disability but also mental health issues.

Rheumatoid arthritis takes a toll on mental health. In the UK, 1 in every four people in the general population with this condition experience mental health problems. Among the mental health problems, depression and anxiety are the most common ones. Studies have found that there is a clear link between depression and the inflammation caused by rheumatism.

The joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis puts extra stress on the body and the mind. As the stress hormones (like cortisol) increase, it leads to depression. Hence, more the pain, more the stress that leads to depression, making it a vicious cycle.

The disease causes a lot of excruciating pain that makes it difficult for the person to carry out everyday life activities. As this restricts the person to function optimally, it affects their mood that, in turn, leads to depression.

Various treatment procedures can be done to reduce the pain arising from rheumatism. These are:

  1. Engaging in an anti-inflammatory diet and eating foods that are rich in antioxidants can help control and reduce inflammation. Omega-3 helps tremendously with rheumatoid arthritis pain and morning stiffness.
  2. Taking proper rest for workaholics is a must. Rest helps in reducing the pain and inflammation and fatigue.
  3. Just as rest is essential, some amount of physical activity is also needed. Exercises should not be very strenuous, but of low-impact, that would allow to strengthen the muscles and make it more flexible. 
  4. Heat and cold treatments like heat pads or warm baths, and ice packs respectively can help with the pain and soreness. It can numb painful areas and reduce inflammation.
  5. Relaxation techniques have been effective in training painful muscles to relax. Research has also found that massages reduced arthritis pain, improve joint function and ease stress and anxiety.

It is essential to intervene before mental health becomes an issue. Early interventions are critical to control the situation before it gets serious. For treatment to be effective, it is essential to get a thorough cognitive evaluation from a psychologist who can help with self-awareness and eradicate negative thought patterns.

People living with chronic illness, including heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other conditions need to get their both physical and mental health before it gets too old. To control one’s depression and anxiety, one can engage in the following:

Therapy – Whenever a person shows any signs of mental illness, the first and foremost thing one needs to do is to seek professional help through counselling, talk therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been proven to be very useful in curing depression if done under an experienced professional. It helps in identifying thought and behavioural patterns that make one depressed, and help in changing these thoughts and behaviours into more rational and positive.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can also alleviate depressive symptoms. It teaches one to focus on the present moment and observe the surrounding and every physical sensation. The focus from one’s bodily sensations then goes to one’s feelings and thoughts.

MBCT stops the mind from wandering off into thoughts about the future or the past, and avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings. This helps in preventing depression from taking a dangerous turn and tries to eradicate such negative thoughts and emotions before it gets fixed and permanent.

ZevA, a mobile application that delivers healthcare to one’s doorstep, helps by providing professional counsellors and psychologists to the houses of those suffering from depression.

  • Support group – Finding people who are also suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and talking to them either online or face-to-face in a community can help one feel less lonely, and can also help uplift their mood.
  • Exercise – Rheumatoid arthritis pain might not make a person feel like exercising, but it often does help with the pain. A simple task like walking or swimming can lower fatigue and pain. Not only does it helps with the pain but also eases the depression and maintains stress.
  • A healthy diet – There is not a specific diet that is followed to relieve depression. But certain food items can help in the overall treatment. Eating a well-balanced meal can help energize the person as well as minimize mood swings. Carbohydrates are considered to have a calming effect on the individual as it is linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. A menu of junk foods, sweets and fried foods must be replaced with a healthy diet of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish.
  • Social support – Social support plays a huge role in reducing loneliness and depression. Family members and friends play a huge role in buffering depression. They need to keep the patient occupied and positive as much as possible. Along with the initiation of friends and family, it is also important for the patient to be initiated as well.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms under check – Before depression could even set, it is essential to keep the arthritis symptoms in check. Being under proper medication can help reduce inflammation and treat problems like joint pain. Once the issues related to arthritis are controlled, mood problems also begin to ease. 

For any treatment to work, one must go visit a cognitive psychologist and recognize any negative thought patterns that may arise due to one’s arthritic situation. Individuals must take proper care of their rheumatism from an initial stage so that it doesn’t aggravate and lead to depression.