Reddit Users Provide Insight Into Mental Health Among People Living With RA

Researchers recently analyzed several threads on the website Reddit to garner a better understanding of the mental health experiences of people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Reddit allows users to ask questions anonymously, as well as share their opinions or experiences without identifying themselves. This format allows for a large pool of publicly available data, the researchers of the present study noted.

“Internet-based communities and online forums where patients discuss mental health experiences, seek advice, and receive peer-to-peer support may represent an authentic source of data for informing such questions on the impacts of mental health in RA. As such, our objective was to conduct a qualitative study utilizing the popular social news website, Reddit, to understand experiences of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) regarding their mental health,” they wrote.

The researchers used two subreddits—which are specific categories that are part of the Reddit site as a whole—“r/Thritis” and “r/Rheumatoid” to identify relevant threads using keywords including “mood,” “mental health,” “stressed,” “depressed,” and “anxious” from June 2018 through June 2019. The authors collected the threads’ title, original post, comments, and responses.

Their search yielded 81 threads, and 27 were included in their analysis. Four themes were identified:

  • Navigating the management of RA
  • Experiencing impact on relationships and social isolation
  • Experiencing loss
  • Experiencing emotional struggles

The first theme encompasses three categories, according to the authors: 1) how symptoms of RA impact mental health; 2) lack of health resources and support; and 3) complexity of medications. Several comments addressed the symptom of fatigue, with one person saying it makes it very challenging to “keep up with the most minimal demands of society”; another person said, “[the] depressing part about [fatigue] is realizing how useless [they are].” Managing RA through medications also posed challenges. “It is defeating to have to try so many med[ications] and not have found one that works,” one user said.

In the second theme, one person said they were told “most people have some arthritis, so I should learn to deal w/it”; others said they feel they are perceived as “lazy” or as if they are “over exaggerating the pain and exhaustion.”

Regarding loss, the third theme, people cited feeling “hopeless and lost most days.” Some mourned their futures, which would be significantly impacted by their disease.

In the fourth theme, the researchers identified two categories: 1) fighting through, and 2) having suicidal thoughts and patterns. In this theme, people shared how difficult it was to pretend they were feeling okay and face the world: “[the] thought of going in and smiling and pretending everything is fantastic is so exhausting.”

The study was published in BMC Rheumatology.

“As with many patients in today’s digital era, individuals with RA look to online communities, such as Reddit, to ask questions and seek information about aspects of RA including disease management and effects on self as well as relationships. Our study not only revealed how these challenges associated with RA impact mental health, highlighting important support roles for healthcare providers, families, and communities, but also identified opportunities to improve the mental health of patients with RA,” the researchers concluded.