Ankylosing spondylitis, or AS, can have a deeper effect beyond just the physical.

While this rheumatic disorder causes fatigue, impaired physical functioning, and pain in the neck, hips, and back, people diagnosed with AS also have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety.

For the 300,000 Americans diagnosed with AS, managing symptoms of the disease — especially pain — can have an effect on their quality of life.

That’s why it’s important to make mental health a priority if you’re living with AS. Although the condition can sometimes be challenging to manage, there’s a lot you can do to positively address your mental health, in turn alleviating psychological impacts.

If your mental health is affected by chronic ankylosing spondylitis pain, you’re not alone. Read on to learn more about AS, mental health, and how to find support.

A 2020 study of 161 people diagnosed with AS found that participants reported feeling high levels of pain that impaired their daily functioning more than 50 percent of the time.

As a result of this pain, survey participants reported “extremely severe” levels of psychological distress — namely, feelings of depression and anxiety.

If you’re managing depression along with ankylosing spondylitis, you’re not alone, according to a 2019 study. Out of 245 patients, 44, or 18 percent, were found to have possible depression.

While depression was linked to both life factors (like employment and income) and disease-related factors, the researchers discovered that mastery — or how much control a person feels over life and disease — plays a big role.

A 2019 Korean study indicated that those living with ankylosing spondylitis had a risk 2.21 times higher than the general population of developing symptoms of depression.

It could be connected to AS worsening symptoms: The more severe symptoms get, the higher toll a disease can take on your mental health and well-being.

Severe symptoms of AS can make it difficult to do everyday activities, like driving or working, or to socialize or go out with friends.

There are numerous things you can do that may help you to manage any mental health effects of AS. Here are a few options to consider:

Make lifestyle changes that fit your needs

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may want to make some lifestyle changes to better fit your needs. First things first, it’s important to be comfortable, especially in the places you spend the most time.

If AS is impacting your work, for example, you may want to speak to your manager about creating a more comfortable work environment, such as through ergonomic equipment.

Being comfortable in your surroundings, and more importantly, taking steps to avoid pain, are both essential to managing your mental health and overall quality of life.

It’s also important to be honest with your friends, family, and loved ones about how you’re feeling. That way, when you do group activities or get together, you can socialize in a way that makes sense for your pain level or current symptomology.

Find a treatment plan that works for you

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment plans, especially when it comes to mental health.

If you’re experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety as a result of AS pain, speak with your doctor about your concerns to identify treatment options.

For some, traditional talk therapy and medication may be useful, while others might want to turn to holistic or alternative methods to manage the mental health impacts of chronic AS pain.

Seek support

If depression or anxiety are getting in the way of your life or everyday activities, you may want to consider seeking professional support with the help of a psychologist, social worker, or counselor for talk therapy, in addition to your primary care physician or rheumatologist.

Like medical doctors, psychologists and social workers can specialize in working with certain types of patients. Look for those who say they specialize in chronic pain or chronic illness in their profiles or bios.

You can also ask the person about their experience working with chronic pain or even AS when you call to set up an appointment.

If you decide you want to try medications, meeting with a psychiatrist can be helpful.

You can also seek out support groups for AS, which you can find online or through local hospitals. Building connections with others navigating the same experiences can help you cope and, in turn, positively impact your mental health.

Suicide prevention

If suicidal thoughts are surfacing for you or someone you know, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:

  • Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24 hours a day at 988.
  • Text “HOME” to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
  • Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
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Prioritize self-care

At the end of the day, taking care of yourself inside and out is of utmost importance.

If AS has you feeling down, try to take time to do something you love, whether that’s watching your favorite movie, drawing, listening to music, or reading a good book outside.

It’s also self-care to set boundaries. Communicating with friends, family, and coworkers to let them know how you’re feeling and what your limits are can allow them to better understand your condition.

Practicing self-care can help you manage stress, increase your energy, and also recognize patterns in your emotions, which may be helpful in understanding feelings of depression or anxiety.

For most people living with the condition, the impacts of ankylosing spondylitis are more than just physical pain. Being diagnosed with AS can create a higher risk of developing feelings of anxiety or depression, but that doesn’t mean there’s no solution.

There are numerous things you can do to manage and positively impact your mental health, like seeking professional support or practicing self-care.

If you’re concerned about depression or anxiety as a result of AS, contact your doctor to discuss your needs and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.