September was Pain Awareness Month globally and now increasingly the connection between chronic pain and mental health is being studied.
By Pooja Priyamvada
September was Pain Awareness Month globally and now increasingly the connection between chronic pain and mental health is being studied. Chronic pain technically refers to pain that lasts longer than three months and is persistent. Research indicates that 30-50% of people having some kind of chronic pain also battle depression or anxiety. These people are also at an increased likelihood to have other mental health issues compared to those who are so to say pain-free.
Chronic pain intervenes in major way in somebody’s daily life and can prevent them from optimum functioning professionally, personally and socially. This, in turn, affects their self-esteem and can lead to anger issues, being depressed and anxious.
There is a cycle between pain and emotions. When somebody is hurt, they are more likely to feel depressed which in turn makes the pain feel or become worse. Often antidepressants, as used in formal treatment for chronic pain too as this, can help with both pain and the emotional stress it causes. Pain does affect sleep and stress levels adversely hence directly affecting mental health.
Often it isn’t easy to assess whether chronic pain has caused depression or vice versa. Depression has been found out to be a major cause of unexplained long-term pain. Several chronic pain issues like migraines, unexplained headaches and back pain are common among people with depression.
For instance, one of the most common and well known invisible chronic illnesses Fibromyalgia is supposed to typically affect the mental health of the survivor affecting their social functioning, energy levels, and general health. There are no visible signs so to say but many “active” workers can be surviving this extremely painful condition every day. These survivors sometimes also develop anxiety disorders because of forced change in their lifestyles and isolation due to reduced mobility.
Researchers also believe that chronic pain and depression might have common neurobiological mechanisms. So, what does this mean?
Changes in common neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine do cause some forms of depressive disorders. In several other cases, depression occurs as a consequence of the learned helplessness and long-term societal and personal demoralization that acute and/or chronic pain might induce.
(The author is an avid blogger and columnist on issues related to mental health. She writes about sexual health, social media and gender-related issues. Views expressed are personal.)