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Men with rheumatoid arthritis are often struggling to cope with their condition due to unique challenges created by their identities and self-perception, according to a new study.
Research carried out by the University of West England and funded by Arthritis Research UK has indicated that men face specific problems when dealing mentally with rheumatoid arthritis that women do not share - and that tailored channels of support may be needed to help them cope.
The unique struggles faced by men
The study centred on a series of interviews carried out among six focus groups comprising 22 men, who were asked about their experiences and the impact their conditions have on their lives.
Their responses revealed that many men find that rheumatoid arthritis poses a challenge to their perceptions of their own masculinity, as the reductions in strength and abilities that the disease causes can lead to a loss of independence, undermining their desired social roles and causing them to feel powerless and out of control.
While some sought out information on how to manage their condition better, others had less productive coping methods, including adopting a "just get on with it" approach that often included social withdrawal or destructive behaviour such as excess drinking or physical overexertion.
The study group also indicated that many men lack support structures outside their immediate family, with the majority saying their friends were not understanding of their struggles.
What can be done to provide better support?
Although the study highlighted the fact that men often find it difficult to deal with their condition, the survey responses offered a mixed outlook on what should be done to address the problem.
A preference for information-giving sessions rather than a discussion group was expressed, although there was no strong consensus on whether these should be mixed-sex or men only, or who should run the sessions.
The researchers concluded: "Further research is needed to investigate whether these findings exist in a larger sample and whether the support preferences of men with rheumatoid arthritis are broadly different from those of women with rheumatoid arthritis to decide whether there is a clinical need to design a service for the potentially different needs of men."
Arthritis Research UK's view
"Millions of men and women with arthritis wake up every morning facing the day in pain. We know from speaking to people with arthritis that they are more likely to have a lower quality of life than those without the condition, and that their mental health is negatively affected as a result.
"Currently, men with arthritis are outnumbered by women three to one: this means that men can sometimes be a forgotten group. This research highlights the need to tailor support for men so that they can access the information and support they need to live well with rheumatoid arthritis."
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