Methods: Mixed methods were used. Data from SARDs patients (n = 1853) were compared with controls (n = 463) and clinicians (n = 289). In-depth interviews (n = 113) were analysed thematically. Statistical tests compared means of survey items between: patients and controls, 8 different SARD groups, and clinician specialities.
Results: Self-reported lifetime prevalences of all 30 neuropsychiatric symptoms investigated (including cognitive, sensorimotor and psychiatric) were significantly higher in SARDs than controls. Validated instruments assessed 55% of SARDs patients as currently having depression and 57% anxiety. Barriers to identifying neuropsychiatric symptoms included: 1) limits to knowledge, guidelines, objective tests, and inter-specialty cooperation; 2) subjectivity, invisibility and believability of symptoms; and 3) under-eliciting, under-reporting and under-documenting. A lower proportion of clinicians (4%) reported never/rarely asking patients about mental health symptoms than the 74% of patients who reported never/rarely being asked in clinic (p< 0.001). Over 50% of SARDs patients had never/rarely reported their mental health symptoms to clinicians; a proportion under-estimated at < 10% by clinicians (p< 0.001).
Conclusion: Neuropsychiatric symptom self-reported prevalences are significantly higher in SARDs than controls, and greatly underestimated by most clinicians. Research relying on medical records and current guidelines is unlikely to accurately reflect patients' experiences of neuropsychiatric symptoms. Improved inter-specialty communication and greater patient involvement is needed in SARD care and research.