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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Mental Health: What You Need to Know – “Rising Above RA”

By Effie Koliopoulos

Mental and emotional health is just as equally important as our physical health. These two areas aren’t always openly addressed at a doctor appointment. Doctors may have you fill out a form prior to a visit were it asks you a list of questions on how you are doing physically, with only a couple questions or none in regards to mental or emotional health. Unless a patient brings it up, actively seeks help or has a medical professional ask how they are doing with this area, it often gets shoved under the rug.

Being that the month of October is home to World Mental Health Day which fell on October 10th two days before World Arthritis Day on the 12th, I wanted to provide some tips for those of us living with rheumatoid arthritis who may be experiencing moments of depression, sadness, grief, anxiety, loneliness, fear, anger, negative self-talk or thinking.

Here are a few suggestions below:

Talk to a trusted family member or friend.

Many people do not like the idea of talking to a therapist. If you have a trusted family member or friend you can talk to openly without judgement, then that is a good start in the right direction. Talking things out instead of keeping feelings, thoughts and emotions inside will only fuel the fire.

Seek help from a professional.

There are times when the help of a professional can be of benefit. According to the Arthritis Foundation, “In talk therapy or counseling, you work with a therapist to reduce your anxiety or depression. Examples include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and problem-solving therapy. CBT is one of the more popular options. It focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.” The mind and body connection is real. The way we think, impacts the way we act, then the way we feel. Being mindful and self-aware to not get stuck in a negative head space for too long can help in the long run.

Get Active.

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According to Dr. -Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving cell connections, which helps relieve depression.”

*Information derived from Harvard Health Publishing

Try Alternative Treatments.

There is nothing wrong with deciding to take a conventional route to treating any mental and emotional health concerns, as it can be absolutely necessary at times. Though for those of you interested in different options, there are many out there. Here are some:

  • Meditation
  • Body Work and Massage
  • Aromatherapy/Essential Oils
  • Biofeedback
  • Scenar Therapy

The Arthritis Foundation also stated that, "data from various studies showed that the rates can be between two- and ten-times greater for depression than the rates of the general population, depending on the type of arthritis. Anxiety and depression can lower your pain threshold, which then chronic pain aggravates your anxiety and depression."

Learning methods and approaches to controlling pain, anxiety and depression can help prevent flares from occurring.

​If you or anyone you know are ever having thoughts of suicide please don’t hesitate to call the, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 available 24 hours every day.

​-Effie