Edited by Frederick A. Matsen, III, M.D.
All families experience stress when faced with new or challenging events. For most families, the problems that come with arthritis are stressful. Besides many of the small changes that must be made, there are also medical bills to pay. Because of the up-and-down nature of arthritis, there is also uncertainty and fear of the future. Sometimes wage earners are forced to work less or may even have to quit their jobs because of disability. This then involves loss of income, more problems, and possible major changes in roles. Someone else in the family may have to become the breadwinner. All of these possible situations can be highly stressful.
To manage these situations in a positive way, it helps to talk regularly–before tensions and fears build up. If you address issues as they come up, they are less likely to become bigger problems that are harder to solve.
Here are some guidelines for talking out problems:
Talk with–rather than to–a person. This means listening and trying to understand what the person is saying, and not telling a person what to do. Talking is a two-way street. Most people respond better when they feel they have gotten their points across. They also respond better when they are asked rather than told to do something.
Use “I” instead of “you” statements. This means saying “I feel…” rather than “You make me feel….” Expressing yourself in this way means you are taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. You are not blaming them on others.
Be an active listener. Try to understand what a person is thinking and feeling, as well as what he or she is saying.
There are many resources available to families of people with arthritis. Get to know the family service agencies in your community. Look in the yellow pages under Family, Community Council, or under your religious group.
Social workers or counselors
If family conflicts can’t be resolved, you might want to seek professional guidance from a counselor or social worker. Many families find it helpful to discuss their situation with a professional before problems get worse.
Anger, despair, and feeling helpless are not unusual for a member of the family or the person with arthritis. No one should feel under constant pressure to be cheerful. Periods of depression are to be expected. However, if these feelings last for a long time and cause major changes in mood or behavior, professional help may be needed. Watch for the following warning signs in yourself, the person with arthritis, or other family members:
Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs.
Personality changes, such as uncontrolled temper, constant anxiety or withdrawing from social activities and life for a period of months.
Ongoing feelings of sadness, frequent crying spells, inability to sleep, sleeping most of the time, poor appetite, neglect of appearance or hygiene.
Physical or verbal abuse.
Thoughts or any mention of suicide.
Family service agencies and community mental health centers offer a variety of counseling services. Most of them charge fees that are based on the family’s ability to pay. They are staffed by professionals who are dedicated to helping families deal with problems.
A medical social worker at your local hospital or clinic may be able to spend time with you. You may wish to contact your minister, priest, or rabbi for support and counseling. Often, care groups at churches and synagogues make home visits and assist people with special problems.
Many people have fears about talking with a professional. Don’t feel ashamed or be afraid that you will be judged or criticized. Instead, know that you are courageous to do so. Expect to see a sensitive, caring person who will help you by discussing and dealing with your situation. You are smart to seek this kind of help. It shows that you care about your family. It also can provide hope and restore your confidence when you need it most.
Other members of the health care team
For answers to questions and concerns about your relative’s treatment program, contact members of the health care team. In addition to the doctor and a social worker or counselor, team members may include nurses, physical or occupational therapists, and your pharmacist.
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