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Researchers Explore Factors that Impact Emotional Wellness in People with MS

March 2, 2015

Two teams, including one supported by the National MS Society, have published studies that focus on finding ways to increase emotional wellness in people with MS. In the face of a chronic, often progressive illness like MS, people may tend to focus primarily on their physical health and may neglect their emotional health -- which is an essential component of overall well-being.

Group Wellness Program: Kimberly Beckwith McGuire, PhD, and colleagues (Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, West Orange, NJ), who are funded by a National MS Society-funded Mentor-Based Postdoctoral Fellowship In Rehabilitation Research, report on their evaluation of a “psychoeducational” MS wellness program in International Journal of MS Care (2015;17:1–8).

Forty-three people with MS completed a 10-week wellness program, consisting of 90-minute group sessions geared to increase awareness of social, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual factors that can affect the overall well-being of people living with MS. Eleven people with MS who did not participate served as a control group for comparison. All participants completed a series of questionnaires before and after the program, which assessed depression, anxiety, stress, cognition, pain, social support, and fatigue.

Results: The researchers found significant reductions in depression, anxiety, overall mental health, perceived stress, and pain in the group that completed the program compared with controls. There was no improvement noted in social support, cognition, and fatigue. The findings suggest the effectiveness of this type of approach for improving many factors that contribute to quality of life for people with MS, although larger and longer-term studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Surveying Depression: Depression in its various forms is common during the course of MS. Keryn Taylor, MBChB (St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia) and colleagues report the result of an online survey on depression in BioMedCentral Psychiatry (2014; 14: 327).

A total of 2459 participants over 18 years of age and diagnosed with MS completed an online survey that examined demographic information; diagnostic history; level of disability; conditions occurring alongside MS; fatigue; and depression; as well as a range of lifestyle and health behaviors.

Results: About one-fifth tested positive for depression using the Patient Health Questionnaire, a screening tool used by professionals to detect depression. Of these, about 93% had clinically significant fatigue as well. In another questionnaire, nearly one-third of respondents reported that they felt depression and of those, almost 40% reported that depression limited their activities.

The researchers found that the risk of depression was higher in people with poor diets, low levels of exercise, obesity, social isolation, and in those who smoked or were taking interferon. They also found lower risks of depression in people who took omega-3 fatty acids (particularly flaxseed oil) supplements and vitamin D supplements, who ate fish frequently, who meditated, and who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol.

These types of associations do not prove cause and effect, but lay the groundwork for conducting trials and other research to address these intriguing findings. This study is an important step toward showing whether lifestyle factors can be modified to alleviate depression in people with MS. 

Read more: Research is essential to finding solutions that help people with MS live their best lives. For that reason, the National MS Society has made research on wellness and lifestyle factors a priority.

Read more about research exploring psychosocial aspects of MS
Read more about wellness research
Learn more about living well with MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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