Katz explains that a trigger for depression can be the loss of ability to participate in activities that are important to patients. “A take-home message is that if you are having trouble performing activities that are important to you, perhaps you can find another way to do them,” she says. “Physical or occupational therapy or a change in medication may help. If these strategies don’t work, try to find other activities that are rewarding to you to replace the ones you have lost.”

The study presented at ACR builds on a wealth of evidence that depression is a significant factor for poor health outcomes, especially in people with RA. 

One study, presented in 2009 at the annual European League Against Rheumatism meeting, showed that 63 percent of RA patients in the study had a psychiatric disorder, most commonly depression.

Another study, published in BMJ earlier this year, found that levels of psychological distress (defined as depression and anxiety) were correlated with increased mortality, and that even low levels of psychological distress increased the risk of dying. 

Amanda Nelson, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina Thurston Arthritis Research Center, Chapel Hill, said that although the link between depression and mortality is not new, this study reinforces the association between the two factors.

“Other studies have shown that depression in the general population, in people with cardiovascular disease, and in older people is associated with higher rates of mortality,” says Dr. Nelson, who was not involved in the study presented today.

“If a patient notices that he or she is having any of the common symptoms of depression, the patient should discuss it with the health care practitioner rather than waiting for the practitioner to ask about it,” says Dr. Nelson. “Depression is treatable if it is recognized.”