When you’re suffering from the aches and pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it’s easy to become depressed. Limited mobility, constant pain and relentless fatigue can erode anyone’s joy for life.
In fact, depression and RA often coexist and directly influence one another: Depression typically worsens the pain, and the worse the aches, the more severe the depression.
“Pain and depression are the twin burdens of arthritis,” says Alex Zautra, PhD, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe who studies the role of positive emotions in health. “And there’s evidence that depression influences immunity. If you’re depressed, you may have more inflammation.”
According to research, people with RA are more than twice as likely to experience depression. One study from the University of North Carolina found that 11% of people with RA experience moderately severe to severe depression. Curiously, only one in five actually discuss depression with their rheumatologists.
While it’s easy to see how a discussion about your mood can take a backseat to concerns about pain, it’s important to address depression, Zautra says. Here are some treatment options your healthcare provider might recommend to ease depression symptoms.
Mindfulness meditation: Studies have found that mindfulness meditation, which involves calming the mind and focusing on a breath, mantra or single word, can help the health and well-being of people with chronic pain. Traditional meditation may also alleviate stress and regulate emotions, which can exacerbate RA pain.
Therapy: Talking to a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or social worker can help ease depression. Aim to find a mental health professional trained to work with people dealing with pain.
Exercise: Getting physically active may be the last thing you want to do when you’re hurting, but even a little exercise can help. Exercise releases endorphins that interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce the perception of pain. These endorphins also boost your mood. Mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi may be beneficial because they promote feelings of well-being, Zautra says. Always talk with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen.
Medication: Some people may need to take an antidepressant. Consult with your rheumatologist to see whether medication may help you.