We already know that people with MS who live with additional diseases can experience worse disability outcomes.

New research has shown that mood disorders, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are also linked to increased disability levels in women with MS.

This research highlights the need for people with MS and their medical teams to manage mental health alongside MS to improve disability outcomes.

Many people with MS do not have MS in isolation, but are also affected by other diseases. For some time, research from around the world (including some Australian research) has demonstrated that having a physical disease in addition to MS increases the level of MS-related disability.

A new research study, published in the journal Neurology, explored whether mental health can impact disability outcomes for people with MS. The research team, based in British Columbia and Nova Scotia in Canada, followed over 2,300 people with MS to answer this question. Participants were followed over an average of ten and a half years and their hospital records were examined to determine whether they had mood or anxiety disorders. In particular, the team focused on people with MS who had depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

During the ten years, close to 36% of people in the study experienced one of the mood disorders. Women who had a mood disorder in addition to their MS had higher levels of MS-related disability, though the same relationship was not seen in men with MS.

Living with other diseases in addition to MS can make management of a person’s MS difficult. So, it is important to determine whether it is this challenge to managing MS when living with another condition that affects MS disability, or whether it is the mood disorder itself that has a direct effect. One way to do this is through research studies that distinguish and account for the many factors which could affect the relationship, in order to isolate the item of interest.

In addition to the presence of mood disorders in this study, the researchers accounted for a range of other factors, including age, gender and socioeconomic status. They also adjusted for the number of other physical diseases that individuals had, the length of time with MS, disease course and whether they had taken any disease modifying treatments for their MS. By doing so, the team was able to confirm that the mood disorders were directly linked to MS disability outcomes, rather than just complicating the management of MS.

This work on psychiatric disorders in MS, along with previous research investigating physical conditions in addition to MS, highlights the need for people with MS and their medical teams to treat the whole body and ensure that all medical conditions are adequately managed. In this case, suitable management of mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder would also assist with the disability outcomes in MS. It is important that anyone with MS who feels they have a mood disorder addresses this with their medical team.

For more information about services for people with MS, including counselling, please contact your local MS Society.

With thanks to MS Research Australia – the lead provider of research summaries on our website.