The Link Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

The Link Between Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Mental health disorders and chronic illness have more in common than most people think. For starters, they are both quite common, can be disabling, and can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

It’s common for patients living with a chronic disease to occasionally feel sad or discouraged. It is also reasonable for them to experience anxiety about their treatment outcomes and future.

However, many other associations exist between mental health disorders and chronic illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Mental Illness and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Research published in Autoimmunity Reviews shows a stronger than expected link between severe neuropsychiatric symptoms and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

According to its lead author, Dr. Andrei Joaquim from the Department of Neurology at State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in São Paolo, Brazil, neuropsychiatric manifestations are quite common in RA and include:


The study showed that up to 40% of patients admitted to having depression.

A higher than average rate. Additionally, a study conducted in the UK showed that the risk of depression was higher in women than in men.


According to the study,

between 21%-70% of RA patients experience anxiety.”

Cognitive dysfunction

The research concluded that RA patients have higher rates of cognitive dysfunction than the general population. The dysfunction was observed mostly in areas of visual-spatial perception and planning. However, some level of cognitive dysfunction was related to impaired functional ability, reduced quality of life, and poor medication compliance.

Behavior changes

Psychological stress, RA pain, and depression can lead patients to a downward spiral of significant disability, increased sleep disturbance, fatigue, and heightened disease activity.

Mental Illness and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Several different psychological and psychiatric problems can potentially affect those with lupus. Many of these difficulties may arise from the disease process itself, which commonly affects the brain and central nervous system.

When lupus affects the brain and central nervous system, it can cause a variety of psychiatric symptoms, including:

  • Mood disorders, including depression and bipolar-type symptoms
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of cognitive function
  • Confusion and delirium
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety

Emotional stress is one of the triggers of lupus flare-ups, and studies confirm that SLE patients have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety.

How Biologics Can Help Manage Mental Health Disorders

A research article published this year examined whether RA patients experienced reduced levels of pain, anxiety, and depression when they received biologic agent treatments as compared to traditional treatment medications.

After analyzing the results,

the researchers concluded that patients who received biologic agents experienced lower levels of pain, during the day and at night, which could signify a decrease in depressive symptoms.

Helping Patients Cope with Illness-Related Mental Health Disorders

There is still some stigmatization of psychiatric illness, especially if patients believe the symptoms are just a part of the disease. Therefore, it’s essential for physicians and nurses to consider the mental and physical health of their patients and learn to recognize the signs of depression and anxiety.

Here are some ways you can help your patients:

Stay Connected

It’s vital to establish strong physician-patient relationships, where patients feel comfortable talking about their feelings of depression or anxiety.

Providing in-office biologic treatments can help strengthen your relationship with your patients, your patients’ quality of life, and improve treatment compliance.

Educate Your Patients

There are many lifestyle changes you can promote that can help improve disease symptoms and lower the risk of developing mental health disorders.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Encourage patients to follow an appropriate exercise plan
  • Help them follow a balanced, healthy diet that eliminates any possible triggers
  • Provide tips to help improve their sleep patterns
  • Advise them to avoid alcoholic beverages
  • Help them quit smoking
  • Teach them stress-managing techniques

Having the Right Professional Network

Some mental health issues are brief and self-limiting, requiring only reassurance and short-term support. However, when there are longer-term emotional problems or recurrent problems that are severe and distressing, referring them to a psychiatrist might be appropriate.

The staff provided by Altus Infusion are in a unique position to greatly assist with the assessment of distressed patients by inquiring about the patient’s mood, and other related symptoms.

Mental health is a crucial factor in the treatment and management of chronic illnesses. As studies suggest, biologic treatments can provide improving results in pain management, which can significantly reduce the risk of developing mental health disorders.

Altus Infusion is a leader in quality biologic management solutions. To learn more about how we can help improve your patients’ lives, please contact us at

At Altus Infusion, we care about the wellbeing of all patients, which is why we are dedicated to helping raise awareness of the different ways we can improve our health and live longer happier lives.

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Disclaimer:  The information provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. Any content regarding symptoms and possible treatment of illnesses is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Altus Infusion does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the information published in its blog and will not be held responsible for the content of any blog publication.

You should always consult your primary care physician for specific medical advice.