New data reveals the impact of arthritis on mental health

Australians living with arthritis are significantly more likely to be affected by mental health issues, according to new research released by the Medibank Better Health Foundation.


The findings from the Medibank Better Health Index1 – Australia’s up-to-date health survey, interviewing more than 50,000 Australians each year – have revealed a higher incidence of mental health issues among people with arthritis compared to the general population including:

  • Depression: 22.3% of people with arthritis are affected, compared with 16.3% of the general population;
  • Anxiety: 21.7% of people with arthritis are affected, compared with 19.2% of the general population; and
  • Panic attacks: 7.3% of people with arthritis are affected, compared with 5.8% of the general population.


The data also found those living with arthritis were almost twice as likely to struggle with sleeping issues, with 10.1 per cent experiencing sleep disorders, compared to 5.7 per cent of the general population.


Medibank Chief Medical Officer Dr Linda Swan said: “While arthritis is a physical health condition, we know it can also take a major toll on the mental wellbeing of those affected -- with chronic pain, mobility loss and a reduced ability to take part in physical and social activities all playing potential roles.


“These findings confirm how essential it is that people with arthritis take measures to not only manage the physical symptoms of the condition, but also their mental health as well, and seek support from their arthritis specialist, GP or other health professional if required.”


Looking at the common types of arthritis, the data revealed people with rheumatoid arthritis are most likely to also live with depression, and those with osteoarthritis are most likely to experience anxiety.


Breakdown of mental health issues by types of arthritis



Rheumatoid arthritis

Gout (joint inflammation)










“While we know all forms of arthritis can impact one’s mental wellbeing, it’s interesting to see that certain types may be taking a greater toll than others.


“If you’re at risk or currently living with the condition, consider tailoring your lifestyle to reduce certain modifiable risk factors -- such as maintaining a healthy weight, and participating in regular physical activity,” continued Dr Swan.


Interestingly, the data also suggests arthritis could be taking a greater toll on mental wellbeing than other chronic conditions.


Of those with arthritis, 31.1 per cent were found to be affected by one or more mental health issues, compared to other conditions where the incidence is lower, including cancer (23.1 per cent), diabetes (26.7 per cent) and cardiovascular disease (26.9 per cent).


Medibank’s tips for managing arthritis and emotional wellbeing:

  1. Learn mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practising controlled breathing techniques can help when dealing with pain. If you feel your mental wellbeing is being impacted by pain, speak to your GP who can recommend an appropriate mental health plan for you.
  2. Get active: Try to incorporate physical activity into your everyday routine. Just remember to always consult your doctor, who can advise on the appropriate exercises for your condition.
  3. Eat a healthy diet: Carrying extra weight places additional stress on muscles and joints. A healthy and well-balanced diet in conjunction with regular exercise should help to keep your weight in the healthy range.
  4. Speak to your doctor: If you’re living with arthritis and are struggling with your mental wellbeing, speak to your GP who will help develop a management plan to suit your needs.


The Medibank Better Health Foundation has partnered with Arthritis Australia to help improve the lives of those living with arthritis. Arthritis Australia is running a Move it in May campaign -- to find out more or register to take part, see


19 May 2018.