Arthritis and regaining confidence through social prescribing

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27 January 2021

By Heather Baumohl-Johnson, Arthritis Action 

There are thought to be over 10 million people living with some form of arthritis in the UK. It is the most common cause of disability in the UK and can affect people of all ages, not just older people.

The word “arthritis” means ‘inflammation in the joints’. Inflammation is a difficult thing to imagine, but it is part of the body’s normal healing process. It can be thought of as a bruise with swelling on the inside of the joints, which can cause pain and stiffness.

The most common types of arthritis are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, where the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling, pain and stiffness.

Why does the physical condition of arthritis affect mental health?

Receiving an arthritis diagnosis can be a positive experience for people, following what could have been years of waiting to name the reason behind the pain, which they now can learn how to manage. Yet for others, it can take time to accept that they have a condition which cannot yet be cured, and their hopes and dreams may need to be adapted. At the point of diagnosis, it is important for the NHS to offer both physical and mental health support to those newly diagnosed with a Long Term Condition (LTC).

it can take time to accept that they have a condition which cannot yet be cured, and their hopes and dreams may need to be adapted.

Some people living with arthritis may feel that their life has diminished. Living with pain can cause depression, and lack of mobility may lead some people to think “How will I get to work, or even do the same job?” Not knowing how to look after yourself can cause anxiety, stress and depression. Feeling like you can’t go out and socialise may cause loneliness, while giving up hobbies can reduce a person’s sense of community, which can be isolating.

Social prescribing for mental health

This is why it’s important for doctors to be able to provide ‘social prescribing’, where people are essentially ‘prescribed’ or referred to community groups or activities to address their wider mental and physical health needs, as well as the social isolation which arthritis can cause. (More on this here.) The NHS describes Social Prescribing as “a holistic approach to people's health and wellbeing… [which connects] people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support.” This type of support may enable people with LTCs to build the confidence to live better with their condition.

It is important that people living with arthritis know they can still be part of a community and expand their life again.

Although currently some clinical commissioning groups are employing social prescribing roles, this is not yet consistently available for people with low level mental health issues linked to LTCs, like arthritis.

It is important that people living with arthritis know they can still be part of a community and expand their life again. Even if they cannot work in the same way as they did before, by talking with their employer they may find a different role, or the employer may offer ways to help them do their job. If someone with arthritis is feeling lonely and isolated, they may not have the confidence to take those steps to help their outlook, like start a new hobby or join a local exercise group. It is important to do something they know they’ll enjoy, or something they’ve always wanted to try, as a way of supporting their mental health, gaining independence in spite of their condition, building their social network and regaining confidence.

Whatever the activity, it is important to be part of a community where they can support others as much as others support them.


If you are living with arthritis, Arthritis Action has an online self-management resource here

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