The psychological well-being of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an important issue, and the advent of measurement tools has led to a better understanding of the mental aspects associated with this chronic illness. Patients with RA are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, with high levels of associated mortality and suicide. The loss of the ability to carry out daily functions owing to RA is also associated with the onset of depressive symptoms. Furthermore, the psychological effects of RA can extend to the partners, families and carers of sufferers. Conventional treatment has focused on treating the symptoms of RA and containment of disease progression, but may not necessarily address the psychological issues associated with the condition. Furthermore, patient perception of RA and of the support offered to them can cause further unnecessary psychological distress. Access to psychological support for RA patients has been shown to be inconsistent and haphazard. It is now being recognized that what is needed is a multidisciplinary team approach to treat psychological distress in RA alongside conventional treatment, involving alternative therapies tailored to the psychological needs of the patient. The benefits of treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation and exercise are clear and these treatments should be actively encouraged, thereby enabling patients with RA to better manage the psychological burden associated with this chronic condition.
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