It comes as no surprise that people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often face anxiety and depression. And yet, according to a study recently published in the British Journal of General Practice, depression in RA patients often goes unrecognized and undertreated, which only makes things worse.
To conduct their investigation, the researchers established an RA clinic where they gave patients an annual health review and interviewed them extensively about how they coped with their disease and how it affected their daily lives. A total of 171 patients were included in the study.
The result of the interviews gave the researchers an in-depth look at the psychological aspects of RA. They learned, for one thing, that their subjects believed that RA worsened their mood. The patients also said their moods affected their RA flare-ups. Some felt embarrassed to discuss their mental health, and others found their doctors to be intimidating, an attitude that sometimes prevented the study subjects from seeking help for their psychological troubles. Conversely, patients who felt comfortable with their health-care providers were more likely to open up about the status of their mental health. Finally, some patients only recognized the connection between their mood and their RA activity when a clinician brought up the subject.
Because the study results were published in a medical journal, the researchers’ conclusions and recommendations were directed at physicians. This advice included suggestions to ask patients about their mental states, to recognize the barriers that keep patients from talking about depression and other topics, to realize that they might sometimes have to make referrals to psychologists, and so on. But RA patients can also take away things from the research, such as the need to strive for communication about mental health, the importance of recognizing that it might take an effort to discuss psychological topics, and the recognition that mood really can affect the course of RA.