Beyond the Negative

Beyond the Negative

Dissertation investigates depression, anxiety and life satisfaction in vasculitis patients.

A York St. John University student’s dissertation investigates the role of metacognitions in adapting to living with vasculitis. Helen Mayor, who did the research as part of her psychology degree, identified higher levels of depression and anxiety and lower levels of life satisfaction in vasculitis patients compared to the general population.

An important finding involved metacognition, or thoughts about thoughts, such as worrying about being worried (negative) or coping with and controlling worry (positive).

“Positive metacognitions – such as confidence in preventing negative cycles of thinking, confidence in controlling reaction to negative emotions, and confidence in setting realistic and flexible goals — were associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression,” explains Helen Mayor, the paper’s author.

“Individuals with high levels of negative metacognitions had higher levels of depression and anxiety.” Similarly, patients with high levels of negative metacognitions had lower levels of life satisfaction.

“This research could help raise awareness in both patients and clinicians about the impact of vasculitis on psychological health,” Mayor notes. “The findings could inform therapy or coaching interventions to reduce negative metacognitive thinking and therefore alleviate anxiety and depression.”

One surprising finding: while overall levels of depression and anxiety were much higher and life satisfaction levels lower in individuals with vasculitis compared to the general population, 29 percent of the sample studied had a level of life satisfaction that was greater or equal to the average level in the general population. “This suggests that successful adaptation to vasculitis is achievable in a significant proportion of people,” Mayor notes.

“Awareness of psychological well-being in individuals with vasculitis is important because depression and anxiety impact upon illness-related outcomes such as adherence to medical treatment,” she explains. “Also, negative emotions can promote the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines resulting in increased inflammation and infection which is of particular relevance to vasculitis patients.”

Psychological health can sometimes be seen as a low priority, especially when physical symptoms are acute or aggressive. “However, once in remission or at least beyond the initial critical period, it would be beneficial if both clinicians and patients were aware of the possibilities for promoting successful adaptation to living with the illness,” Mayor notes.

“Increasing levels of the positive metacognition of confidence in preventing negative cycle of thinking may enable individuals to move forward and increase determination to overcome difficult situations,” Mayor explains. “This then provides the opportunity for personal growth, which is reflected in life satisfaction. Also, increasing levels of confidence in setting realistic and flexible goals, by setting multiple short-term goals may support adaptive coping.”

November 2013