Understanding the Mental Health Impact of Restless Legs Syndrome

May 21, 2024 Understanding the Mental Health Impact of Restless Legs Syndrome By Anjana Ganesh, RLS Foundation Intern and Kaleigh Maxw...

May 21, 2024
Understanding the Mental Health Impact of Restless Legs Syndrome
By Anjana Ganesh, RLS Foundation Intern and Kaleigh Maxwell, RLS Foundation Program Coordinator

For the past 75 years, May has been nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness to the ongoing importance of mental health in the US. A 2021 national survey reported 1 in 5 US adults experience mental illness each year and studies have shown that depressive disorders are common for people who have restless legs syndrome.1

Living with a chronic illness can sometimes feel overwhelming and burdensome. RLS is more than just physical discomfort. The debilitating symptoms associated with RLS, such as sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, and heightened stress levels due to the constant urge to move their legs – especially during periods of rest or inactivity – can take a toll on one's mental health and wellbeing.

In fact, data shows that adults with RLS have a two- to four-fold risk of significant depression compared to those who do not have RLS.2 The chronic nature of RLS symptoms, coupled with the disruption it causes to daily life and sleep patterns, can exacerbate feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and lowered mood, contributing to the development or worsening of mental health issues.

Addressing mental health concerns alongside RLS treatment is crucial for comprehensive care and quality of life. Talking openly about the mental health impact of RLS and seeking care is a vital step in breaking the stigma surrounding both conditions. Therapy, counseling, and support groups can provide individuals with coping strategies, emotional support, and a sense of community, empowering them to manage both their physical and mental health challenges more effectively. To find a support group near you, reach out to info@rls.org.

While depression can occur in anyone and at any age, acknowledging the impact of RLS on mental health and advocating for comprehensive care can aid in supporting those affected, promoting a culture of empathy, raising awareness, and encouraging understanding and acceptance. If you or someone you know is struggling with RLS or mental health concerns, remember that help is available, and reaching out is the first step towards healing and recovery.

Mental Health Resources:

If you are having any depressive symptoms, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. The combination of depression, sleep deprivation and RLS requires a comprehensive medical exam and treatment plan to manage symptoms. 

Explore these free resources to lean on if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis:

For more information on RLS and mental health, download the Depression and RLS handout or reach out to info@rls.org.

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP22-07-01-005, NSDUH Series H-57). Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2021-nsduh-annual-national-report 

  2. Hornyak, Magdolna. “Depressive disorders in restless legs syndrome: epidemiology, pathophysiology and management.” CNS Drugs vol. 24,2 (2010): 89-98. doi:10.2165/11317500-000000000-00000

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