Arthritis is a pervasive disease that impacts one if five American adults — or 50 million people. The toll it takes goes far beyond just making joints stiff and painful; arthritis is also connected to anxiety and depression, and is surrounded by a veil of myths, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Because the month of May is both Mental Health Month and National Arthritis Awareness Month, health experts are calling attention to the connection between arthritis and mental health.
The Arthritis Foundation is also launching an arthritis public awareness campaign — which includes the misconceptions of the disease.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Arthritis
As many as one third of U.S. adults over the age of 45 who suffer from arthritis also have depression, anxiety or both, according to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fewer than half of those surveyed sought treatment from their doctor or a mental health professional for their anxiety or depression.
The study recommends that healthcare providers screen all arthritis patients for anxiety and depression.
“Anxiety, depression, pain, and disability can become a vicious symptom cycle. Health care providers can help people with arthritis break this cycle by diagnosing and treating anxiety and depression, and recommending regular physical activity and participation in community based programs such as self-management education,” said Louise Murphy, PhD, an arthritis expert with the CDC’s Division of Population Health.
Without proper screening and treatment for mental health problems, arthritis sufferers are at risk for increased pain and other physical symptoms, and are less likely to engage in behaviors to help manage their arthritis.
To reduce the effects of arthritis, the CDC recommends that patients to participate in moderate physical activity (up to 150 minutes per week), reduce extra weight, get an early diagnosis and work with a health care provider to treat and slow the condition’s progression.
Most people think arthritis is a single disease that affects only old people. However, arthritis affects people of all ages and is an umbrella term for over 100 joint diseases, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus and fibromyalgia. Arthritis is surrounded by a number of myths and misconceptions, even though the condition has been widely recognized for centuries.
“Arthritis is common, costly and painful, and people think that there is nothing you can do about it. Misconceptions around the disease contribute to millions living with arthritis pain and the persistent attitude of complacency toward the disease and its impact,” says Dr. Patience White, Vice President of Public Health Policy and Advocacy for the Arthritis Foundation.
Common arthritis myths include:
Myth: Arthritis only happens to old people. Fact: As many as 300,000 children are impacted by arthritis and two out of three people with arthritis are younger than 65 years of age. Some of the most serious forms of arthritis occur in teenagers.
Myth: Arthritis is worsened by cold weather. Fact: Barometric pressure changes related to weather can affect arthritis sufferers, but there’s no proof that cold weather makes arthritis worse.
Myth: There’s no treatment for arthritis. Fact: Getting diagnosed early coupled with arthritis management can minimize or prevent pain and can prevent disability.
Myth: Cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis. Fact: Knuckle cracking can’t trigger arthritis, but it can stretch tissue and cause discomfort.
In conjunction with its campaign the Faces of Arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation is hoping to raise awareness of this chronic disease, including the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.