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Depression Is Common in Adults With Arthritis

Self-management programs and mental health screenings can help ease the burden

A woman suffering from arthritis holds her right wrist in pain as she sits on a sofa

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En español | People with arthritis may benefit from more routine health screenings and self-management interventions, according to a federal report. The study found that 1 in 3 adults with arthritis have a history of depression, while nearly 1 in 6 of them experience “frequent mental distress.”

"A lot of people with arthritis have severe joint pain, and that's very debilitating on their life,” explains Kamil Barbour, one of the report's authors and an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Limiting your social participation, limiting your leisure time, physical activity — it can sadden you and affect your mental health and lead to depression because you feel like you have a very debilitating disorder,” he says.

Using data from the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, CDC researchers found that depression and mental distress affect more women with arthritis than men. And LGBT individuals with arthritis are nearly twice as likely to experience mental health issues, compared with their peers.

Southern and Appalachian states saw higher rates of mental distress and depression among adults with arthritis; however, researchers say no state or region is immune to the trend.

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Coping with arthritis, depression

Increasing physical activity is one solution that researchers say can lessen the burden of arthritis-related depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. The CDC also recommends evidence-based self-management education workshops, which train individuals with arthritis and chronic pain on everything from appropriate exercise to appropriate use of medications.

Finally, the study's authors encourage more routine mental health screenings in patients with arthritis and, when necessary, referrals to mental health professionals. The use of community health workers and telemedicine can expand access to care in areas where mental health services are limited, researchers propose.

Signs of anxiety include feelings of restlessness or worry as well as difficulty focusing. Common depression symptoms include a sad or hopeless feeling and a loss of interest in hobbies and activities, according to the CDC.

Arthritis affects an estimated 54.4 million American adults. That number is expected to rise to 78.4 million by 2040, the study points out.