Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression

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New Rheumatoid Arthritis / depression study is not surprising

Rheumatoid Arthritis is in the news this week. It seems researchers have found that most RA patients battle depression. The study was done with 75 RA patients, mostly women.

Was anyone surprised? I have never met anyone diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis who did not experience at least some depressing thoughts over the diagnosis. It is a normal reaction to news of such horrifying proportions.

For me, it was like a sentence without a crime. Of course I grieved! I grieved the myriad things which I had planned but would never do. I grieved my future. I grieved the delight of running on the beach. I grieved the pleasure of being able-bodied.

There is a normal grief process with several stages. Psychologists call it the normal grief process for a reason. It is considered healthy to encounter and process grief in each of those ways. And then it can be put aside.

Clinical depression is a more lasting sadness. It is like getting stuck. Often, counseling or even medication is needed to become un-stuck.

Rheumatoid Arthritis does not go away, like other problems may

That’s the catch. Most things in life tend to cycle around: We have hard times, but they usually pass. Then there are some better days. There is an opportunity during a stronger period to process what has occurred.

But Rheumatoid Arthritis never reads the rule book. It tends to only progress. (That means “get worse.”) So, there may never be a period of lower stress during which you can process the feelings and move forward. Instead, there are often more shocking developments and more losses to grieve as the days go on.

It is pretty difficult to avoid getting stuck. Remember the diagram of the 4 courses of RA? Who could scale those peaks and not fall into a pit?

What can we do about depression and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

First, we can allow ourselves to grieve. We can face the facts as they unfold and purposely move through the normal stages of grief, even if we must do it repeatedly (since the onslaughts of the Rheumatoid Arthritis are repeated). We can even welcome the grieving as healthy since we have honestly lost much.

Second, we can connect with others who understand and validate our grief. Often, those close to us do not understand what Rheumatoid Arthritis is or have denial issues about RA. Imagine trying to process grief over the death of a friend while folks are telling you “It’s not so bad.” As if it really is not. As if there had not been a death. That denial would not help the grief process.

Third, we can examine our medications and supplements. The study in the news today found that Rheumatoid Arthritis patients who use steroids are more likely to become depressed. Some supplements like Omega fatty acids are good for the RA symptoms and for our brains. Discuss depression with your doctor and consider what might be changed.

Fourth, of course, if we become truly stuck, we should ask for help. Sometimes, as mentioned, this means counseling or medication. At least for a spell.

Once in a Bible study on I Peter, I was taught something that really helped me: Stop being surprised at the trial you are enduring. You have brothers who are enduring the same suffering all around the world.

Peter was referring to persecution. But, it helps so much to stop being surprised at our suffering. No one is surprised at the grief of a cancer patient. Getting diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis is bad news. We ought to grieve.

Edit: 8/29/14:

Here’s one of the other articles on RAW about fighting depression – click here.

And an interview I gave on depression recently in a magazine (scroll down to page 15) - click here.

Links to the RA / Depression study:

Recommended reading:

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 22nd, 2009 at 4:52 pm and is filed under RA Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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