It’s something that many people suffer with (sometimes silently) for years. It can present a type of pain that simply won’t go away, no matter how many “treatments” you try. And now, as if the pain and discomfort weren’t enough, you can add depression and anxiety to the list of this condition’s “side effects.”
What are we referring to? Arthritis. And with May being Arthritis Awareness Month and Mental Health Month, there’s no better time than the present to bring to light this newly-found connection between this physical condition, and the mental conditions that can accompany it.
In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that one-third of Americans aged 45 and up who suffer from arthritis are also dealing with depression and anxiety. What’s more? Very few actually seek mental health treatment to address those concerns.
A Little about Arthritis
The word arthritis, which means “joint inflammation,” actually refers to over 100 rheumatic conditions . . . not just one disease as many believe. Another misconception about arthritis is that it is an “older person’s” condition, when in fact arthritis actually affects younger people as well. In the U.S. alone, 27 million people aged 25 and older suffer from one type of arthritis, osteoarthritis.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are mental illnesses that can cause both physical and mental symptoms. Those with depression often experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and in some cases, have thoughts of suicide or even attempt suicide. There is a tendency to feel disconnected with everyone and everything around you, as well as a loss of interest in the things you once enjoyed. The physical symptoms associated with depression can include headaches, gastrointestinal issues like upset stomach and acid reflux, dizziness, and more.
Anxiety, on the other hand, causes feelings of panic and doom along with physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, palpitations, and hot flashes and sweating. In some cases people also suffer chest pain and difficulty breathing during an anxiety or panic attack, which are similar to the symptoms felt during a heart attack. This, of course, causes even more fear and anxiety.
Both anxiety and depression can be addressed through various treatment methods. Some of these include professional counseling, antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications when deemed appropriate, as well as relaxation techniques, bio-feedback, and other holistic methods.
Of the 1,800 participants in the Arthritis Conditions and Health Effects Survey, 31% reported suffering from anxiety and 18% were suffering from depression. For many, both anxiety and depression seemed to go hand-in-hand, as 84% of the patients suffering from anxiety also experienced some depression.
What Can Be Done?
As mentioned above, many arthritic individuals suffering from depression and/or anxiety never seek help. And, up until now, the connection between the two was not necessarily recognized by healthcare providers. Sure, it may make sense . . . pain, diminished capacity for normal activities, and a feeling of alienation can all lead to either or both of those mental conditions. But the prevalence of the link was not truly known until this most recent research.
So, what can be done? The recommendations made by the CDC, based on the findings, urge healthcare providers to routinely screen arthritis sufferers for anxiety and depression in hopes of improving their quality of life through treatment options early on. And hopefully, as mental health becomes more of a priority among healthcare providers, both the physical and mental pain can be alleviated.
Preidt, Robert. "Anxiety, Depression Often Go Hand-in-Hand With Arthritis." NIH.gov. Medline Plus, 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 May 2012.
American College of Rheumatology. One-Third of Adult Americans with Arthritis Battle Anxiety or Depression. Rheumatology.org. American College of Rheumatology, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 May 2012.