Young people with arthritis at highest risk of isolation this festive season

A mum hugging her son on the settee while the house cat looks on.
  • Young people (16-34 year olds) with arthritis are the most likely age group to avoid social occasions and cancel plans, due to pain and fatigue of the condition
  • Isolation affects all ages, but majority of 16-34-year olds with arthritis report feeling lonely on a regular basis; half have experienced mental health problems
  • The charity, Versus Arthritis, is calling for collective effort to reduce festive isolation risk

Thousands of young people with arthritis are at risk of social exclusion and isolation this festive period, according to new research by the charity Versus Arthritis.

Isolation affects people with arthritis of all ages, but the charity’s Defying Arthritis at Every Age report reveals that three quarters (73%) of 16-34 year olds with arthritis avoid making plans for social occasions altogether because of their condition, compared to an average of 47% across people living with arthritis across all ages.

A similar number (75%) of young people with arthritis cancel events with family and friends because of pain and fatigue, compared to just over half (52%) across all age ranges.

Arthritis affects 10 million people – or one in six - in the UK, half of whom experience pain every day. The condition can fluctuate from one day to the next, meaning many people find it difficult to make or uphold social plans with friends and family.

Many also report a lack of public understanding about its pervasive impact on all parts of life, stopping them from spending time with loved ones, being able to work or even do the simplest of movements without pain. This is exacerbated by the common misconception that arthritis is ‘an old person’s disease’, meaning young people seem particularly vulnerable to the impact.
Feelings of ‘being a burden’ puts all people with arthritis, but particularly those aged 16-34, at risk of developing mental health issues:

  • Three quarters of (73%) young people feel lonely because of their arthritis; while two in five (42%) feel isolated on a regular basis;
  • Half (49%) have experienced mental health problems, including depression or anxiety;
  • Over half (56%) have struggled with low self-confidence because of their arthritis.

The research also found that young people were also the least likely of all age groups to talk openly about their arthritis:

  • More than half (52%) of young people with arthritis feel embarrassed or ashamed of their condition, in contrast to just a quarter (27%) across all ages;
  • A similar number (53%) have hidden their condition from a friend, colleague or loved one, compared to two in five (43%) overall.

Liam O’Toole, CEO of Versus Arthritis, commented:

“This month many people are looking forward to parties and getting together with loved ones, but chances are, you or someone you know will be feeling isolated because of arthritis. Arthritis steals your independence and spontaneity - the unpredictability and pain of arthritis means many people living with it don’t make social plans at all, while others feel embarrassed or hide their condition, even from friends and family.

“This isn’t acceptable and it doesn’t have to be this way. Whether it’s organising a work Christmas party or simply arranging a night out with friends, by having an open conversation and with a few simple considerations we can all push back against arthritis and ensure no one is left excluded and feeling alone this Christmas.”

The charity offers a free and confidential helpline service, runs local support groups across the country and has practical information and advice on its website.

People’s experiences and ways of coping with arthritis vary greatly. Some suggestions for making festivities more inclusive include:

  • Collaborate on plans – have an open conversation about how to make the activity more inclusive
  • Plan Christmas parties or nights out with accessibility in mind – many people with arthritis or mobility issues; choose a step free venue with accessible toilets
  • If there’s travel involved consider the distance and how people will get there – long car journeys can be uncomfortable if you have arthritis; some train companies ask for up to 24 hours’ notice when booking accessible support; book taxis in advance when you can
  • Make sure there are alcohol free drinks available and do not put pressure on people to drink alcohol. They may be limiting alcohol because of medication they take
  • Share the load with festive admin like present shopping and meal preparation so everyone can contribute in a way that’s suitable to them

Carrie is in her mid-twenties and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 18:

“I’ve felt lonely and isolated in past Christmas seasons when I couldn’t participate as much as I would have liked. I love Christmas and the build-up throughout December, but this also coincides with one of the worst times of year for me in terms of symptoms, due to the weather.

Celebrations with family, friends and colleagues soon mount up and suddenly you are left with little time to rest and take care of yourself.

Friends and family need to remember many people with arthritis find it hard to ask for help or confide how they are truly feeling, so if you make the first move and ask how your loved one is doing, it will be truly appreciated and make it easier for them to be honest.”

The report forms part of a nationwide campaign calling on people to declare themselves Versus Arthritis by talking about the personal impact of arthritis more frequently and more loudly, so it is no longer ignored, and no one has to live with it alone. For more information about arthritis and the campaign, visit /defyarthritis.

National Union of Students, said:

“It is unacceptable that three quarters of young adults with arthritis feel lonely – particularly at this time of year. Spending time with friends and family is an important part of people’s wellbeing, but this festive season, many students with the condition will be unable to join in.

We need to be more inclusive and understanding of those who may be feeling isolated and experiencing poor mental wellbeing as a result. That is why we stand with Versus Arthritis to make sure no one is excluded, or left feeling alone this Christmas.”