The chronic pain experienced by people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its impact on their quality of life often leads to patients suffering depression. According to the findings of a Canadian study, emotional support from spouses or life partners can significantly reduce the likelihood of RA patients developing depressive symptoms.
The study was conducted by researchers from University of British Columbia, who have published their findings in the Arthritis Care & Research journal. They chose 133 couples for a one-year project assessing the impact of depression and spousal empathy on patient disability and marital quality. The RA patients and their spouses were asked to complete questionnaires, providing information on functional impairment, depressive symptoms, marital quality and perceptions of spousal empathic responding.
At the follow-up a year later, the research team established that perceived spousal empathy had a positive effect on depressive symptoms and significantly affected functional impairment. Depression levels were linked to increased functional impairment in RA patients only in cases where spousal empathic responding was perceived as low. The researchers also established a strong connection between perceived empathic responses and depressive symptoms in both the patient and spouse groups.
In the concluding remarks of their report, the researchers said that spousal empathy acted as a buffer against depression in RA patients and thus exercised a beneficial effect on their functionality levels and on marital quality. This indicates that RA treatment courses developed with couples in mind should place greater emphasis on empathic responding and make it a key target for intervention.