Mental Health

Why Rheumatoid Arthritis May Affect More Than Just Your Body

Imagine enjoying an active life—one with pain-free movement, morning and night. Then, over time, joints become stiff or achy. At first, you joke, “I must be getting old.” Eventually, the joints become swollen and feel warm. The pain and stiffness are more pronounced in the morning. Getting ready for the day feels like a chore.

For those living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), this is reality. The pain and loss of mobility make it harder to enjoy everyday life. Sometimes, these can affect a person’s overall mental health.

According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, nearly 7 percent of adults in the U.S. face major depression in a given year. For patients with RA, depression is common—with as many as 40 percent experiencing significant symptoms of depression.

Unfortunately, depression can make physical activity daunting. The lack of movement can worsen arthritis-related pain.

It’s a vicious cycle.

But, there is hope for an active life with RA.



Make mental health a priority.

Just as you would seek treatment if you broke your arm, it is important to speak up when you don’t feel like yourself. Think of mental and physical health in the same way: If you have an injury, or if something doesn’t feel right, there is no shame in bringing it up with your doctor.

Symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. It’s not unusual to have these feelings after experiencing loss, which comes in many forms.

Loss of mobility is not easy—it makes physical activities more difficult and sometimes painful. It is OK to grieve for that loss and ask for help if you need it.

In an article for the Arthritis Foundation, Dr. Louise Murphy, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s arthritis program, explains, “Treating mental health conditions should be regarded as a fundamental part of managing arthritis symptoms.”

Though having RA or another type of arthritis doesn’t mean depression will follow, keeping tabs on how you feel will help keep your mind and body healthy.


FriendsShare how you feel.

Sometimes, it might feel like friends and family don’t quite understand what it’s like to live with RA. You might feel alone or misunderstood, especially on days when symptoms flare up. Don’t ignore those feelings.

When you’re ready, open up to your loved ones about the pain you experience and how it makes you feel. It’s possible they don’t know firsthand what you’re going through, but it could help them understand the symptoms. RA, like depression, is not always visible. Others might not realize how much it affects you.

Helping others understand how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally, is an important step in creating a support circle.



Don’t neglect nutrition.

In some cases, proper nutrition can ease the symptoms of both depression and RA.

Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids—which come from things like flaxseed, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables and fish oil—can be helpful. Getting plenty of vitamin D—which comes mostly from exposure to sunlight but is also found in fatty fish and dairy products—might also be beneficial.


pexels-photoRAshoeStay as active as possible.

It might seem counterintuitive, but physical activity could ease pain and fatigue from RA. Staying active could also improve your mood, even alleviating long-term depression.

Low-impact exercises, such as swimming and stretching, are easy on joints but help strengthen muscles while improving your mood.

As always, though, remember to check with your doctor before starting an exercise routine to make sure you experience the full benefit of the activity.

Mental health is closely linked with physical health, making it important to take care of both. Life with RA might make it difficult to remain active, and it is frustrating to experience a loss of mobility, which can worsen symptoms of RA and lead to poor mental health.

But good nutrition, physical activity, honest conversations with loved ones and careful attention to mental health are part of a healthy lifestyle.

How are you balancing physical and mental health? Share your story at


The information herein may not be construed as medical advice. The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. It should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. It is best to obtain medical recommendations from your physician.