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News Letter

Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Depression and Arthritis Pain Print E-mail

It's perfectly normal to feel a little down and blue at times. For some people, though, the stress of arthritis pain can add up to full-blown depression. It may work something like this: You get into the habit of thinking negatively about all the changes in your life because of arthritis pain, which eventually makes you depressed. The more depressed you are, the more arthritis pain and fatigue you feel. As these symptoms get worse, your stress levels start to rise even higher. The more stress you experience, the more depressed you become. And so on. It's easy to see how you could easily get caught in this destructive cycle.

Living through the Depression

Research has shown just how closely depression and pain are linked. A medical journal article (Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America, 1999) that reviewed the scientific evidence on this subject concluded that depression is more common in people with rheumatoid arthritis than in the general population. In addition, higher levels of pain among people with arthritis seem to be tied to a greater risk of depression.

A Depressed Mood, in Turn, Can Make It Harder to Cope with Pain

"People who experience significant depression in addition to pain have a harder time overcoming their feelings of helplessness and powerlessness," says Margaret Caudill-Slosberg, M.D., Ph.D., a pain specialist at Dartmouth Medical School.

There is good news. Depression is one of the most treatable of all mental health problems, thanks to modern advances in counseling and medications. Treating depression won't make arthritis pain magically disappear, of course. But it can make the experience of dealing with that pain much less overwhelming.

Watching for Warning Signs

These are the signs that you may need professional treatment for depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

A person with depression has at least one of these symptoms:

  • A low mood lasting most of the day, nearly every day
  • A loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities

In addition, a person with depression has at least three or four of these symptoms:

  • Weight loss or gain, or decreased or increased appetite
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Restless movements or movements that look slowed down
  • Tiredness or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If these symptoms last for at least two weeks, and if they start to interfere with your personal life or work, it may be time to seek help. Talk to your family doctor or a mental health professional, or call your local hospital, mental health center, or suicide prevention hotline.

Helping Yourself to Hope

Full-fledged depression needs professional treatment. However, there also are things you can do on your own to help improve your mood.

  • Spend time with friends and family. Socializing is a great depression-buster.
  • Keep up with your normal activities. Don't give in to the urge to withdraw.
  • Become more physically active. Exercise is another potent mood-lifter.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Drinking too much just makes things worse.
 

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