Living with a painful and potentially disabling chronic condition like ankylosing spondylitis (AS)can increase your risk for developing depression, says Susan Goodman, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. In fact, research published in March 2016 in Journal of Rheumatology found that people newly diagnosed with AS have a higher risk for depressive disorders than those who don’t have AS.
The higher rates of depression and anxiety in people with AS can be related to the disease itself, according to Dr. Goodman. While AS symptoms vary from person to person, many experience pain and stiffness, especially in the neck and back, the Spondylitis Association of America reports, and “pain is a significant contributor to depression,” Goodman says. In addition, the pain from the condition may keep you up at night, and while difficulty sleeping may be a sign of depression, it also may be a cause of depression, according to Arthritis Research UK and the American Association of Sleep Technologists.
Higher rates of depression and anxiety may also be related to the life-altering impact AS can have on your family and your social and work roles, notes Adena Batterman, LCSW, senior manager of the Inflammatory Arthritis Support and Education Programs at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Depending on the severity of the illness, individuals may experience difficulty with everyday tasks and activities,” she explains. “These profound changes can contribute to feelings of sadness, frustration, and loss.”
Steps for Better Mental Health
Treating AS can ease your pain, not only making you feel better but also reducing your chances of becoming depressed, Goodman says. That’s why paying attention to your emotional health should be part of your AS management plan.
Here’s how to better care for your physical condition and your emotional outlook at the same time:
Exercise. Exercise can help you reduce stiffness and maintain mobility, according to the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society. “An added benefit is that exercise positively affects mood,” Batterman says. Exercise releases endorphins, natural painkillers also known as feel-good hormones, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.