Individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) are at increased risk for mental health issues, as a result of their decreased quality of life. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms reported in MS and can cause loss of employment, loss of independence, and low quality of life. When fatigue is coupled with other symptoms such as anxiety and depression, it can cause significant mental health declines in those with MS. These three symptoms play a large role in the extremely high cases of suicide among MS clients. Research suggests that people with MS are twice as likely to die from suicide or to attempt suicide or self-harm as people without MS. In fact, some statistics suggest that the rate of suicide among MS clients is nearly eight times that of the general population without MS.
These frightening numbers call for more research into the actual rates of depression, anxiety, and fatigue among people with MS. Understanding what the true levels of these symptoms are, and how they influence one another, can help clinicians devise treatments aimed at reducing symptoms severity and ultimately, reducing the rate of suicides among MS clients. To this end, B. Wood of the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia recently conducted a two-and-a-half year study that examined the symptoms of 198 individuals with MS. Wood looked at factors such as gender, seasonal occurrence, disease duration, and age, and then examined how they affected symptomology. The results revealed that fatigue was more common in the men than the women, and played a significant role on the deterioration of quality of life. Overall, half of all the participants reported fatigue at the onset of the study, just under half reported anxiety and less than 20% had symptoms of depression.
Even though the study did not provide treatment to the participants, it did consist of semi-annual evaluations. This element alone seemed to have an effect on the symptoms. Specifically, anxiety decreased by almost 10% per year, but depression and fatigue did not. This drop was more noticeable in the women than the men. Seasonal fluctuations did not affect symptoms as hypothesized based on the lack of sunlight in the winter months. And neither age nor disease duration had any significant influence as well. Overall, this research shows that this trio of symptoms can put people with MS at increased risk for suicide. Wood added, “These findings are important for clinicians who, on recognizing the occurrence of one factor, should have heightened awareness of the likely occurrence of other members of this trio.”
Wood, B; van der Mei, IAF; Ponsonby, A-L; Pittas, F; Quinn, S; Dwyer, T; Lucas, RM; and Taylor, BV. Prevalence and concurrence of anxiety, depression and fatigue over time in multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis Journal. Feb2013, Vol. 19 Issue 2, p217-224. 8p. DOI: 10.1177/1352458512450351.
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