Sure, I always strive to be happy and live well with illness. I push positivity, and, I’m not alone – research has shown that a positive attitude and optimistic outlook is beneficial both to your mental AND physical health.
While we should at all times try to live our best lives despite our conditions, the fact remains that there is a “dark side” to chronic illness. My thoughts are that the more we educate people on this not-often-spoken-of part of these diseases, the more we can spread awareness and the more that outsiders can understand the devastation that these conditions have the potential to create.
Two things made me think about writing this blog. First off was the fact that this week is National Invisible Illness Week, and last week was Suicide Prevention Week. The second part of the equation was that an old article was passed along to me discussing a renowned astronaut who killed himself because of his rheumatoid arthritis.
A British study from August 2011, showed that AT LEAST 1-in-10 suicides were linked to chronic illness. However, statistics from the official Invisible Illness Awareness Week Ministry claim that “sadly, physical illness or uncontrollable physical pain are major factors in up to 70% of suicides.” As for older arthritis patients, millions of seniors ages 65 and older suffer from light to severe depression, and some symptoms include loss of a sense of self worth and fixations on death or suicide.
According to Johns Hopkins, “of patients with chronic pain referred for evaluation to comprehensive pain programs, 8-50% have been reported to have current major depression (Smith 1992)” A severe and morbid potential consequence of major depression is, unfortunately, suicide. Sadly, a 2003 Oxford University Rheumatology study showed the following: “Females were significantly over-represented among RA patients who committed suicide (52.6% RA women vs 17.3% women with neither RA nor OA). Comorbid depressive disorders preceded suicides in 90% of the female RA patients. Before their suicide, 50% of the female RA patients (vs 11% of the male RA patients) had experienced at least one suicide attempt. The method of suicide was violent in 90% of the RA females. RA males were less often depressive, but committed suicide after experiencing shorter periods of RA and fewer admissions than females. Conclusion Attempted suicides and especially depression in female RA patients should be taken more seriously into account than previously in clinical work.”
It is even documented that the controversial “Dr. Death” a.k.a. Jack Kevorkian assisted in the suicides of both rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia patients. Two examples: On March 5th of 1998, he assisted with the suicide (or, as he called it, “mercy killing”) of a 61-year-old RA patient. On the very same day, he dropped off a deceased 42-year-old man at a hospital who he had “assisted” and who had Fibromyalgia.
In 2006, American physicist and NASA astronaut Charles E. Brady, Jr. took his own life. Brady’s death was the result of suicide. As his death was announced to the public, many reports stated that he had died after a lengthy illness (severe pain and paralysis from his rheumatoid arthritis) and other sources speculated that Brady’s decision to take his own life might have been brought on by his chronic pain and diminished mobility, which is supported by NASA internal emails related to Brady that have been released.
Both rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are painful, chronic conditions that can wreak havoc on one’s quality of life. It should not, however, be a reason to end one’s life!!!! You can still live a great, happy, FULL life even with chronic pain or a disability.
That being said, loved ones, caregivers, and doctors should be very aware that physical illness most definitely increases the risk of mental health problems and vice versa. Researchers say patients with chronic conditions “should be considered a high- risk group for suicide within national policy, and much greater attention should be given to providing better medical, practical and psychological support to these patients.”
Dr. Jo Ferns says, “People with chronic conditions might not be suicidal, but perhaps could be apathetic about living or dying. They are not saying they will kill themselves, but are making decisions that do increase the risks of dying. I think that’s what we have to watch for.”
Listen, rheum mates and spoonie friends: You may feel that you can’t go on another moment, another day. The pain may be unbearable. BUT….there’s always hope, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, there are always ways that you can make your life better, even when it seems that you cannot go on any longer. You have value in this world, people who love you – even if you don’t know it – and there are always resources for support if you want it. Reach out – talk to someone! Whether it is a counselor, friend, psychologist, psychiatrist, rheumatologist, sibling, spouse, parent, teacher, family member, minister, priest, suicide hotline, online support group, a Twitter pal, a Facebook friend, your journal, or whatever God you pray to – get those feelings out! There are many things in this world to be grateful for. If your pain is unbearable, talk with your doctor, and keep trying out new options until you find something that provides you with at least some relief! If the pain is deeper than just the physical side of it, there is no shame in talking to a professional about what you are going through. Sadly, you’re not alone. Many of us can relate to what you are going through when dealing with these illnesses. Together, we can cope, and we can stay optimistic, and push on through! “You are braver than you think, and stronger than you know!” Also, just remember, that no matter how bad your pain, there are people who would love, or who would have, given the chance , loved to be in your shoes.
If you are contemplating suicide PLEASE talk to someone before it is too late. Arthritis and chronic illness do not have to ruin your life!
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.273.8255 – suicidehotlines.com
To Write Love on Her Arms – http://www.twloha.com, or @TWLOHA on Twitter.
Also – in 2009, the Arthritis Foundation & Arthritis Today Magazine released a list of 3 Fibromyalgia drugs and a stunning 20 other medications that lead to increased suicide risk. Read the article by clicking here.
It can get overwhelming and frustrating to know that you may live with these conditions for the rest of your life, but you are NOT alone. Remember that bravery is a great weapon against arthritis.
What’s YOUR weapon against arthritis?
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