Health Check

Is arthritis affecting your mental health?

Arthritis can take a toll on more than just your body. Read on to find out how

Written by Medibank
"Profile of a senior woman, sitting on her bed and holding her back in pain while her doctor sits besides her with a concerned expression on his face"

If you’re currently living with arthritis and feel your condition may be taking a toll on your mental wellbeing, you’re not alone. According to the Medibank Better Health Index, 3.8 million Aussies are affected by arthritis, and new data from the Index reveals nearly one in three (31.1%) are also likely to experience mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

The mental health of those with arthritis

Depression is the most common mental health condition among people living with arthritis, with 22.3% affected, compared to 16.3% of the general population. This is followed by anxiety, with 21.7% affected compared to 19.2% of the general population.

Is sleep a problem for you?

If you’re living with arthritis, you may find chronic pain is impacting your ability to get a sound night’s sleep. We see this reflected in the data which reports those living with arthritis are almost twice as likely to struggle with sleeping issues, at 10.1% compared to just 5.7% of the general population.

Commenting on the findings, Medibank Chief Medical Officer Dr Linda Swan said: “While arthritis is a physical health condition, we know it can also take a major toll on the mental wellbeing of those affected -- with chronic pain, mobility loss and a reduced ability to take part in physical and social activities all playing potential roles. These findings confirm how essential it is that people with arthritis take measures to not only manage the physical symptoms of the condition, but also their mental health as well, and seek support from their arthritis specialist, GP or other health professional if required.”

READ MORE: How to manage arthritis

Common types of arthritis

Looking at the common types of arthritis, the data revealed people with rheumatoid arthritis are most likely to also live with depression, and those with osteoarthritis are most likely to experience anxiety.

“While we know all forms of arthritis can impact one’s mental wellbeing, it’s interesting to see that certain types may be taking a greater toll than others. If you’re at risk or currently living with the condition, consider tailoring your lifestyle to reduce certain modifiable risk factors -- such as maintaining a healthy weight, and participating in regular physical activity,” continued Dr Swan.

Interestingly, the data also suggests arthritis could be taking a greater toll on mental wellbeing than other chronic conditions. Of those with arthritis, 31.1% were found to be affected by one or more mental health issues, compared to other conditions where the incidence is lower, including cancer (23.1%), diabetes (26.7%) and cardiovascular disease (26.9%).

Medibank’s tips for managing arthritis and emotional wellbeing

  • - Learn mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practising controlled breathing techniques can help when dealing with pain. If you feel your mental wellbeing is being impacted by pain, speak to your GP who can recommend an appropriate mental health plan for you. beyondblue also has some relaxation exercises you might find useful.
  • Get active: Try to incorporate physical activity into your everyday routine. If you’re looking for ideas, check out Medibank Free + Active, which offers a range of free, social activities around the country. Just remember to always consult your doctor, who can advise on the appropriate exercises for your condition.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Carrying extra weight places additional stress on muscles and joints. A healthy and well-balanced diet in conjunction with regular exercise should help to keep your weight in the healthy range.
  • Speak to your doctor: If you’re living with arthritis and are struggling with your mental wellbeing, speak to your GP who will help develop a management plan to suit your needs.

The Medibank Better Health Foundation has partnered with Arthritis Australia to help improve the lives of those living with arthritis. Arthritis Australia is running a Move it in May campaign -- to find out more or register to take part, visit

READ MORE: How can exercise help manage chronic illness?

Written by Medibank

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