Give your mental health some love

Give your mental health some love

With a rheumatic diagnosis, the focus often ends up being on treating physical complaints. However, the risk of suffering from mental illness is higher for people with rheumatoid arthritis, RA, than for the general population. Therefore, don't forget to take care of your mental well-being—there are good opportunities to prevent mental illness, and it doesn't have to be complicated.

Research shows that people living with RA are more likely to become depressed and experience anxiety. Pain, fatigue and physical problems that limit one's life can of course affect one's psychological well-being. There are also theories that the increased degree of inflammation in RA itself can lead to an increased risk of mental illness. (1)

A connection has also been found in the other direction, that is that people with anxiety or depression in combination with RA had a more active RA and felt worse in their rheumatic disease. (1)

This may sound discouraging. As if a rheumatic diagnosis isn't enough? But knowing the increased risk is a good start to also prevent it. And there's a lot you can do!

Low mood vs. depression

Before we move on to what you can do to prevent mental illness, let's take a closer look at the difference between low mood and depression.

We all feel down from time to time, with or without a diagnosis. Sometimes we know what the low mood is due to, sometimes it is more difficult to know where the feeling comes from.

Low mood in itself is nothing dangerous, it is a natural part of being human and an emotional reaction when something difficult happens. It can manifest itself in the form of feeling powerless, sad, irritated or restless. In most cases, low mood goes away without treatment. (2)

If, on the other hand, you have felt very down for a couple of weeks and also no longer feel like doing things that you usually enjoy doing, it could be a case of depression. Then it may be time to seek help. (2)

Affect your mental well-being

There are a number of things you can do to influence your mood and mental well-being. It doesn't have to be complicated—you can start here and now.

  • Do something you usually enjoy. What are your interests? Make sure to catch up with them regularly, even if it's just for a short while in a busy life. Do you like to dance, sing, grow your own vegetables or do some kind of craft? Even if you lack desire and energy, think about what you usually find fun to do and do it, even if you experience resistance at first.

  • Tell someone how you feel. Expressing something in words to someone else can both give perspective and make the whole thing feel a little easier. Maybe you have a friend, relative, neighbor or colleague that you can talk to? You can also get support via a patient association, or turn to a therapist.

  • Relax. If you feel stressed and find it difficult to unwind, still make sure to find moments for this. You probably know what can make you relax—a walk, book, audio book, or maybe a movie? Also try guided relaxation exercises. Google can help you find plenty of them.

  • Take care of your good routines. Eating well, sleeping well and exercising should not be underestimated. Good routines contribute to better health overall and make us better able to cope with temporary stresses. Alcohol and drugs, on the other hand, make the situation worse in the long run, even if they can sometimes seem to alleviate it for the time being.(2)

Make sure to get help if you need it

It cannot be taken for granted that all RA patients are asked by their rheumatologist how they feel psychologically. It can be missed due to a lack of time or resources, or an idea that the issue is on the GP's table. (3)

If you cannot get out of your low mood, you must make sure to bring it up yourself, either with your rheumatologist who can help you further, or with your GP. An undiagnosed depression makes it more difficult to respond to the rheumatic treatment, with the risk that you will also feel worse physically (3).

So what would make you feel better right now? To call a friend, listen to an old favorite song, or find out if there is a painting class near where you live?


  1. Very well health: Rheumatoid arthritis - mental health

  2. 1177 - psykisk hälsa nedstämdhet (SWE)

  3. NRAS: Depression and rheumatoid arthritis