The Relationship Between Mental Health and Chronic Pain

chronic pain mental health

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Did you know that people living with chronic pain are four times more likely to experience anxiety or depression than those without chronic pain?

Oftentimes, chronic pain and mental health go hand in hand. Those with chronic pain are more likely to experience mental health problems, while those with poor mental health are also more likely to experience chronic pain. In this blog, we’ll take a look at the former.

First off, what is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that persists for longer than six months. Although it often occurs when pain signals remain active in the nervous system after an acute injury, like a fracture, surgery or burn, heals, it can also happen even without a history of injury.

Long-lasting pain can have various effects on a person’s physical health, including muscle tension and restricted mobility, and it can adversely affect a person’s mental health.

Chronic pain and mental health

Mental health consists of your emotional, psychological and social well-being, and it affects many aspects of life, including thoughts, feelings and behavior. The most common mental health conditions associated with chronic pain are depression and anxiety.

Depression

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities.

According to a 2017 study entitled “Pain and Psychology—A Reciprocal Relationship,” while depression affects about five percent of the general population, it can affect up to 45% of people with chronic pain. Like most mental health conditions linked to chronic pain, depression and chronic pain are inversely related – not only are those suffering from depression more likely to experience chronic pain, but those with chronic pain are more likely to experience depression. According to a peer review journal published in 2005, about 75% of people with depression also report feelings of pain.

Anxiety

Chronic pain and anxiety are also related. Although there are many types of anxiety, they all tend to include nervousness, fear or worry.

One study involving 250 people with moderate to severe pain found that 45% screened positive for an anxiety disorder. Additionally, those with anxiety were likely to report significantly worse pain, further supporting an inverse relationship between mental health and pain.

What’s more, specific painful conditions are linked to mental health disorders.

Arthritis: Arthritis, for example, is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints, and it is linked to higher rates of both mood and anxiety disorders. Arthritis is a painful disorder that can affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities, and it can also cause a person to withdraw, leading to loneliness or isolation.

Multiple Sclerosis: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is defined by nerve damage that disrupts communication between the brain and spinal cord. Those with MS are nearly twice as likely to develop major depressive disorder than those without MS, and they are also more likely to have generalized anxiety disorder. Additionally, MS is associated with pseudobulbar affect, a neurological condition characterized by sudden, uncontrollable laughter or crying regardless of a person’s emotional state.

Chronic Migraines: Chronic migraines, or headaches that last more than 15 days per month for longer than three months, are common in those with mental health conditions. Those with chronic migraines are more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. 

Other types of disorders and pain that increase the risk of mental health disorders include:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Menstruation-related pain

When it comes to the impact on mental health, the duration of pain, and the effect is has on the sufferer’s day-to-day life, matters. Those suffering from high-impact chronic pain, meaning they are in pain for more than three months and experience significant restrictions with at least one major activity, like being unable to work outside the home or struggling to do housework, are more likely to report adverse effects, including mental health problems.

Chronic pain can be devastating

Long-term pain can negatively affect a person’s mental health and well-being. In addition to being more susceptible to mood and affective disorders, those with chronic pain also have increased rates of suicidal ideation and attempts. By understanding the relationship between mental health and chronic pain, those suffering can take steps to manage their pain more effectively.


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