How to Manage Depression That Comes With RA

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on September 13, 2023
3 min read

Rheumatoid arthritis can take a toll on your mental health. The disease is known for causing pain, stiff joints, and fatigue, but it can also lead to depression. In fact, if you have RA, you’re two to four times as likely to have depression as someone who doesn’t have it.

If your RA makes it hard to do the things you enjoy in your life, you’re even more likely to get depressed. It’s a vicious cycle because depression can make RA pain and fatigue worse. It can even raise your odds of heart disease, which are already higher if you have RA.

If you notice signs of depression, get help right away so you can manage it.

It’s more than being sad once in a while or feeling a little blue. It’s constant.

Depression is a medical problem. The signs are different for everyone. If you’re depressed, you may feel:

  • Angry, teary, or sad all the time
  • Hopeless about your life
  • Empty or guilty
  • Forgetful or foggy
  • No longer interested in sex or social activities
  • Tired or listless
  • Not interested in eating
  • Wanting to eat all the time
  • Body aches, headache, cramps, or backache
  • Like you want to die or commit suicide

Some depression symptoms, like pain or fatigue, are the same as your RA symptoms. You may not realize that depression is the cause. You might worry what other people will think if you’re depressed and not want to face it.

If you or your loved ones think you’re depressed, get help right away. See your doctor or a mental health professional to get a diagnosis. The doctor can prescribe treatments, like medications or therapy.

RA could make you more likely to become depressed for a few reasons.

RA is chronic. It’s a disease you’ll have to manage for life. Even if it goes into remission (no signs of inflammation), you’ll have to keep up with doctor’s appointments and get regular tests to make sure you’re healthy. This can be stressful and darken your outlook on life.

Pain causes depression. RA joint pain puts extra stress on your body and mind. Stress hormone levels in your body go up as a result. This can lead to depression. The more pain you have, the more depressed or anxious you can become. Depression can also make pain worse. It’s a bad cycle.

Inflammation affects your mood. RA results from inflammation in your body that’s out of control. Levels of certain chemicals in your body can be too high. This is also called high disease activity. RA inflammation that’s too high can trigger depression.

RA impacts your lifestyle. The disease can make it hard for you to work, take care of your family, or do things you’ve always loved. That leads to depression. RA can also bring medical bills and other expenses. This added stress or guilt could lead to depression.

See your doctor. If your mood doesn’t improve, discuss it at your regular checkup. Or make a special doctor’s appointment to go over it. Your doctor can prescribe antidepressants or refer you to a mental health specialist.

Try therapy. See a mental health professional to get counseling, talk therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy. You may need this type of treatment along with medications to ease your depression.

Join a support group. Meet up with others who have RA either in your community or online. Talk with others who live with the same symptoms you do. Support groups can lift your mood and make you feel less alone.

Get your RA symptoms under control. Medications may be able to lower your inflammation and treat problems like joint pain. When you have less pain and your body works better, your mood problems may ease, too.

Get more activity. RA pain and fatigue may make you feel like you don’t want to get out of bed. You’ll feel better if you do. A regular swim or walk lowers fatigue and pain. Exercise can also ease depression and help you manage stress.

Stick to a healthy diet. Too much junk food, sweets, or fried foods can trigger inflammation in the body, a key factor causing depression. Eat a healthy diet of fresh fruits, veggies, and fish. Foods rich in omega-3 fats, like salmon, flaxseed, and walnuts, may help you manage depression symptoms, too. These foods are also good for your heart.