The Arthritis-Mental Health Connection

Woman with depression talks with a therapist.

Many adults with arthritis have anxiety and depression. Learn how arthritis and mental health are connected.

If you or someone you know has arthritis and is feeling down or worried, learn about programs that can improve mood and well-being, and ease arthritis symptoms.

About 1 in 5 US adults with arthritis has symptoms of anxiety or depression. These symptoms are more common in women, younger adults, those who identify as LGBT+, those with chronic pain or other co-occurring chronic conditions, and those who are disabled, unemployed, or otherwise unable to work.

Arthritis, anxiety, and depression can all have negative effects on overall health and quality of life. Feelings of sadness or worry can interfere with a person’s ability and motivation to care for themselves properly and manage daily life, let alone manage their arthritis or other health conditions. That’s why it’s important for people who have arthritis to take care of their mental health symptoms as well as their arthritis symptoms.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or know someone who is,

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Both are free and confidential. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.

For more information, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifelineexternal icon.

Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Some common symptoms of anxietyexternal icon are:

  • Worry or irritability.
  • Restlessness (unable to stay still or stop racing thoughts).
  • Trouble focusing.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause or that do not ease with treatment.

Some common symptoms of depressionexternal icon are:

  • Sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness.
  • Guilt or worthlessness.
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and activities.
  • Fatigue, or lack of energy.
  • Appetite and/or weight changes.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause or that do not ease with treatment.

If you have arthritis and are experiencing any of the symptoms above, talk to your health care provider. He or she can refer you to mental health professionals and helpful services. Some of these services, such as evidence-based self-management education and physical activity programs, may even address your mental health and arthritis together. Through self-management education workshops, you can learn skills to help you cope with symptoms, reduce stress, and make healthy lifestyle choices. Physical activity can lead to benefits such as reduced arthritis pain, increased mobility, and improved mood.

Self-Management Education Workshops

Self-management education workshops like the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP) have many benefits, including long-term reduction in depressive symptoms. CDSMP teaches people how to manage their chronic conditions, including arthritis. Learn more by visiting the CDC Arthritis Program’s Lifestyle Management Programs’ webpage.

Guidance for Health Care Providers

Over 54 million US adults have arthritis. About 10 million adults with arthritis report either anxiety or depression symptoms, according to a 2018 CDC analysis. These symptoms were more common among adults aged 18 to 44 than older adults. One in five adults with arthritis had anxiety symptoms, compared to about one in nine adults without arthritis. Depression symptoms were more than twice as common among adults with arthritis as those without arthritis (12.1% vs. 4.7%).

Not only are symptoms of anxiety and depression common among US adults with arthritis, these symptoms have also been associated with reduced response to arthritis treatment and poorer quality of life. Health care providers can empower patients to improve their mental health and manage their arthritis in two ways:

  • Ask your arthritis patients about depression and anxiety. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends depression screeningexternal icon for all adults. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration encourages universal screeningexternal icon for both anxiety and depression.
  • Offer treatment and/or referrals to services. When treating mental health conditions in your arthritis patients, encourage strategies that address both physical and mental health. Refer patients to self-management education workshops, where they can learn proven ways to manage symptoms, reduce stress, and take medicines the right way. Also encourage patients to be physically active, on their own or by taking part in a structured, arthritis-appropriate physical activity program. Research shows that self-management education and physical activity can help improve mood, increase energy, and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and arthritis.