Positive Psychological Factors and Impairment in Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Disease: Do Psychopathology and Sleep Quality Explain the Linkage?

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Objective: Little is known about potential mechanisms of action linking protective positive psychological variables and functional disability in patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease. The present study was undertaken to examine symptoms of psychopathology, including stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep quality, as serial mediators of the association between gratitude, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and functional impairment. Methods: We assessed risk and protective factors for functional disability in patients with fibromyalgia (FM), osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and ankylosing spondylitis (AS) who were recruited from an Austrian health care facility. Respondents completed online surveys, including the Gratitude Questionnaire 6-item form, the Self-Compassion Scale short form, the Self-Forgiveness and Forgiveness of Others Index, the Perceived Stress Scale 4, the Patient Health Questionnaire 2, the 2-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale, the Sleep Condition Indicator, and the Health Assessment Questionnaire. Bivariate and serial mediation analyses were conducted. Results: For our sample of 1,218 patients (52% female, n = 632; AS [37%], OA [34%], RA [14%], and FM [24%]), stress, depression, and anxiety, in parallel as first-order mediators, and sleep quality as a second-order mediator, explained the association between positive psychological variables and functional disability. Conclusion: Positive psychological factors exert a beneficial downstream effect on mental well-being, sleep health, and health-related functional impairment. Therapeutic promotion of gratitude, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness may improve mental and physical health in patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease.