Arthritis and Mental Health

September 2022

Learn how having arthritis can affect your mental health, and how your mental health can impact your arthritis.

What is depression and anxiety?

Five percent of adults worldwide suffer from depression. Depression has an impact on your emotions, thoughts, and behaviour. Persistent sadness and lack of interest are symptoms of depression. It can also disturb sleep and appetite. Tiredness and poor concentration are also common.

Feeling stressed or worried is only one aspect of anxiety. Some people may experience stress and anxiety when under pressure. These feelings can disappear once the stressful situation has passed or removed, however for some people they may persist. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Anxious feelings that persist, occur for no particular reason, or make it hard to cope with daily life could be symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are different from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness. It involves excessive fear or anxiety. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and many effective treatments are available. The sooner people with anxiety get support, the more likely they are to recover.

How arthritis affects mental health

The chronic pain caused from arthritis can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. When people become restricted from doing daily activities, they can start to feel physically and emotionally stressed. Rates of depression and anxiety among people with arthritis can range up to ten times higher than the general population.

People are more likely to experience depression and anxiety if they feel helpless or expect terrible outcomes. Their perception of pain and joint symptoms has an impact on their mood. These people may even experience more pain and disability or may react less to pain treatment. They may also become more sensitive to depression and anxiety.

How mental health can affect arthritis

For some, mental illness may worsen their arthritis symptoms and affect their pain threshold. Some patients with depression and anxiety can have more functional limitations. This may affect their treatment plans, and lead to other health conditions.

The management of your arthritis can by changed by the vicious cycle of the pain, poor health, and depressed mood.

Read our free infosheet on Arthritis and Emotional Wellbeing

Pain and depression

The brain has a very complex system for transmitting pain, which may adjust in intensity. Pain levels can influence stress, poor sleep, anxiety, and depression.

Studies show that patients who are in a lot of pain with arthritis, are more likely to experience anxiety or depression. Depression can also worsen pain for some people. A person’s capacity to manage and cope with pain may be affected by depression.

Chronic pain can cause both physical and psychological stress. It is well known that chronic stress changes the chemical composition of the brain. This can affect your mood, thinking, and behaviour.

For more information, read our free infosheet on Dealing with Pain

Where to seek support for mental wellbeing

When it comes to our mental health we sometimes think we can fix things on our own, or hope the issue just goes away by itself.

That’s where health professionals come in. There are plenty of effective treatments for anxiety and depression, and the sooner you seek support, the sooner you can recover.

If you start to notice signs and symptoms, a General Practitioner (GP) is the best starting point for someone seeking professional help.

Your GP can:

  • Make a diagnosis
  • Check for any physical health problems or medication that may be contributing to your condition or may affect your treatment
  • Provide information and discuss available treatments taking your preferences into account
  • Work with you to draw up a Mental Health Treatment Plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment (if appropriate)
  • Provide support, brief counselling or, in some cases, more specialised talking therapy
  • Prescribe medication
  • Refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist (if appropriate).

For more information about who to contact to seek support for mental wellbeing, read our free article here

How Arthritis Queensland can help



You can make a difference by supporting the work of Arthritis Queensland. Arthritis Queensland is 95% community funded. We rely on our generous donors and volunteers to ensure that we can continue to provide solutions and support to adults and children living with the pain of arthritis.