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Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Mental Health of Canadians Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis Research Canada/Arthrite-recherche Canada’s scientific team is tackling challenges faced by over 6 million Canadians living with arthritis – challenges that can interfere with everyday life. Through 100+ research projects, they are finding ways to prevent arthritis, diagnose people earlier, manage symptoms, provide new and better treatments and improve overall quality of life. We are excited to share #9 on Arthritis Research Canada's list of 10 Research Projects to Watch in 2023 this week.

#9 Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Mental Health of Canadians Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

For Canadians with rheumatoid arthritis, pandemic-related stress was made worse by concerns about increased risk of COVID due to medications that suppress the immune system, delayed and uncertain access to vaccines, periodic lockdowns, and initial uncertainty about access to medications.

Understanding the emotional impact of the pandemic may help us better anticipate and address the mental health needs of people living with rheumatoid arthritis.

This research compares trends in the prevalence of anxiety and depression prior to, during, and will continue after, the COVID-19 pandemic in people with rheumatoid arthritis, with and without a prior history of mood disorders.

Using survey information from CATCH (Canadian Early Arthritis Cohort), a large pan-Canadian cohort of adults living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) followed over many years, this study compared the symptoms of depression and anxiety before and during the first 22 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 1644 patients. Because participants provide information about their physical, emotional, and social health at each visit, the investigators were able to evaluate mood in the year prior to and during the pandemic. They will continue to do so during the remainder of and after the pandemic.

They found that more than 1 in 5 reported symptoms of anxiety and depression prior to and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas in the general Canadian population, the number of Canadian adults reporting depression more than doubled in the first few months of the pandemic but declined fairly rapidly afterwards, emotional distress was not diminished over time in patients with RA. Adults reporting a prior history of mood disorders were more than twice as likely to report emotional distress with depression peaking early in the pandemic and anxiety growing with each successive wave.

The results suggest that it may be important for rheumatology team to ask patients about their lifetime history of anxiety and depression as previous episodes may be an important marker of increased vulnerability and recurrence in RA patients, particularly during the pandemic.

Click here to learn more about this research study.