It’s Okay to not be Okay – Speaking up about Arthritis and Mental Health
By talking openly about her experience, Eileen Davidson hopes to break the silence and reduce the stigma and misconceptions that plague arthritis and mental health
Mental health struggles for those living with arthritis or chronic pain is not talked about nearly enough. Many patients feel embarrassed or ashamed, and some doctors aren’t sure how to bring it up to their patients or know what resources to recommend. This can often leave patients feeling like they’re fighting this battle all alone. It can be difficult to explain mental health struggles to people, and unfortunately, people are not always well-equipped to know what to say or do. This would sometimes result in comments such as “just snap out of it and you’ll be fine,” or “stop being so emotional, it’s all in your head,” minimizing the experiences – which many can do without realizing. Remarks like these are more discouraging than supportive for those living with arthritis or struggling with their mental health.
For myself, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after a difficult pregnancy, which sent my physical and mental health into a steady decline. Even though I had experienced depression since my teens, I was not prepared to deal with the loss and grief that comes with the diagnosis of a serious illness. This was a whole new situation for my mental health. The anxiety and depression became as exhausting and painful as the fatigue from my rheumatoid arthritis and my medications.
The triple effects of arthritis, anxiety, and depression would often leave me sleeping for days at a time or unable to sleep at all. I would be left with debilitating fatigue – no matter how much I slept. As a single mother to a young child, I was overwhelmed with symptoms and stressed by the impact of this disease. I was hopeless and felt like I was helpless.
At first, I hid in shame and was afraid to bring up my mental health struggles because I was afraid of being judged. Finally, I mustered up the courage to reach out to my Rheumatologist to seek her advice. She referred me to a clinical social worker, psychiatrist, physiotherapist, and an occupational therapist to help me with medications and adjust to my life with arthritis.
You’re not alone.
Arthritis Research Canada reports up to 38% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience depression and up to 70% experience anxiety; 30% of patients with lupus experience depression and up to 40% experience anxiety. There is a high proportion of patients with psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and gout experiencing anxiety and depression as well.
Through this support, I was able to get the help I needed to move forward and develop new coping skills. I also met other people with arthritis who were going through the same challenges. It wasn’t long before I realized I wasn’t alone in how I had been feeling.
Arthritis and mental health is an important area of research that is often overlooked. I am grateful that Arthritis Research Canada is conducting research to better understand the prevalence of anxiety and depression in people with arthritis, why this is occurring, and what we can do to address it. Most importantly, they work for and with patients. The organization’s Arthritis Patient Advisory Board partners with scientists to ensure that research is relevant, meaningful and helpful.
As a member of the Arthritis Patient Advisory Board, I see now how important patient participation in research is. Patients contribute to research by sharing their experiences and speaking up about the type of research that is most important. By getting involved with research, patient advisors can help inform and improve the quality of care for all people with arthritis. Arthritis Research Canada is working across Canada to find answers, including those that address mental health. For a more in-depth look at this area of research, please check-out episode two of the Arthritis Research Education Series.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help,