Pain and mental health


How your mental health is affecting your pain

By Dr Nadah Karriem

Depression and anxiety are often referred to as the unwelcome companions of chronic pain. Research shows that people who suffer from chronic pain are four times more likely to develop depression and anxiety than those who are pain-free. Because chronic pain and mental illness share biological mechanisms in the brain, depression can change the way in which the brain processes pain signals, making the sufferer more sensitive to pain. Pain may even be a symptom of a mental health condition.

Chronic pain and mental illness are also unique in the sense that there are no outwardly visible defects which can make them harder to diagnose and often causes others to be less empathetic towards the sufferer. Fibromyalgia, migraines, back pain, osteoarthritis, pelvic pain and complex regional pain syndrome are examples of chronic pain conditions that may significantly affect mental wellbeing.

So now that we know about the link between chronic pain and mental health conditions, what can we do about it?

Firstly, we can make the diagnosis early. Common symptoms of depression are a sad or anxious mood, feeling hopeless or having a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, low energy or lack of motivation, difficulties in falling or staying asleep, and an increase or decrease in appetite.

Secondly, we can try and identify stress-related triggers that increase our pain.

Thirdly, we can communicate with our doctors, family, friends, and support structure on how we are feeling and, lastly, we can seek multi-disciplinary care for our pain and mental health illness.

Chronic pain may also inadvertently be attributed to a concurrent mental illness; therefore, pain should always be assessed and investigated thoroughly.

A good multi-disciplinary team includes a doctor, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, and a psychologist or psychiatrist.

If you are suffering with chronic pain and mental illness, contact PAIN to assist you in making a diagnosis and guide you through interdisciplinary treatment; and remember, there is always hope, even when your brain tells you there is not (John Green).