Experiencing chronic pain is something that as many as 1 out of 4 adults in the United States go through on a daily basis. There are a lot of different reasons behind why someone might have chronic pain—from a medical condition, a long-lasting injury, or even from mental health distress, for instance. As one would expect, chronic pain can have a great impact on somebody’s overall wellness. But can chronic pain cause depression?
Here, we look at this question to figure out the relationship between chronic pain and depression. We’ll explore the ways in which chronic pain can cause depression as well as other mental health distress. Most importantly, you’ll learn about the next steps you can take if your chronic pain has led to depression.
The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Depression
According to research, there is a direct link between chronic pain and depression. A large majority of people with chronic pain also have depression, according to recent studies. Approximately 85 percent of those who live with chronic pain experience symptoms of depression as well.
So, how can chronic pain cause depression? Studies show that chronic pain can actually disrupt the nervous system in such a way that the body cannot produce the “feel-good” hormones that the brain needs. On top of this, there are social, environmental, and other personal factors that contribute to someone experiencing depression on top of chronic pain. When these elements are combined, the chances of somebody with chronic pain developing depression become even greater.
4 Ways Chronic Pain Can Cause Depression
If we were to address the question, “Can chronic pain cause depression?” in the simplest of terms, the answer would be a resounding yes. However, this doesn’t quite explain why there’s a relationship between the two experiences. Let’s take a closer look at 4 ways that chronic pain can cause depression.
1. Lifestyle change
When somebody starts experiencing chronic pain, it can cause a lot to change. For some people, chronic pain begins later in life, meaning that, until the point when it started, they might have been able to do activities that now are too taxing or too uncomfortable. Missing out on those hobbies, activities, sports, career opportunities, etc. can feel like a substantial loss. This in turn can lead to depression.
Lifestyle changes aren’t always all that bad, though. This is especially true when somebody makes a lifestyle change that ends up helping them to feel stronger or happier. But even the best changes can be challenging to cope with—any new phase in life takes time to process and accept.
2. Social isolation
Chronic pain can also lead to social isolation because the pain makes it challenging to do certain things. Additionally, it can be hard to find the energy to go out, especially with depression added to the mix.
Some ways to combat this would be to accommodate—if it takes too much energy to go out to dinner, perhaps invite friends over for a movie night. Or if walking around a park is out of the question on a bad pain day, perhaps utilizing a mobility device, frequent breaks, and accessible paths could be a good way to still do the things you enjoy without compromising your wellbeing.
Another helpful resource is to communicate with others who live with chronic pain. This is a group of people who understand what it’s like to feel the symptoms of pain every day. Not only can chronic pain communities help you to feel less alone, which can sometimes ease depression symptoms, but they’re also a great tool to lean on when you’re in need of pain management ideas, self-advocacy practice, and other types of support.
3. Strain on relationships
Similarly as the previous two reasons, this answer behind the question, “Can chronic pain cause depression?” shows that there is a connection between the relationships someone with chronic pain has and their mental wellness. Having the right support is essential when you have chronic pain. However, chronic pain can cause some relationship strain for a variety of reasons, from not being able to keep plans to caregiver burnout.
Communication is key for all relationships. This means speaking about the challenges, asking for help, and working through tough times when possible.
4. Lack of pain management
Having pain is a crummy feeling (to say the least) physically, mentally, and emotionally. When the pain becomes too much to handle, depression symptoms can begin to ramp up. After all, chronic pain can greatly impact your quality of life. This is why having the right type of pain management is so important.
Some treatment options for pain management that can help to alleviate the aches and set the foundation for you to work toward mental health recovery include:
- Medication management
- Seeing a pain specialist
- Gentle, tolerated movements
- Physical therapy
- Alternative therapies
- Getting accommodations
- Reaching out to support groups
- And more.
What Other Mental Health Issues Can Chronic Pain Cause?
Chronic pain can lead to other mental health distress as well. In addition to the symptoms of depression, which often include fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, etc., people with chronic pain frequently experience anxiety surrounding their pain.
Thinking about how the pain will impact them, when they’ll feel pain next, and how they will function in spite of the pain are all common worries for people with chronic pain. Anxiety disorders usually amplify these worries and can cause extreme distress when not treated by a mental health professional or with other therapeutic interventions.
Furthermore, people with chronic pain are often more susceptible to developing substance use disorders. This is especially true in situations of opioid addiction. Opioids are commonly prescribed as the only form of pain management for a lot of people with chronic pain. While having the right pain medications can be instrumental in helping some people who live with chronic pain function, taking these medications also comes with serious risks.
In these instances, it can be helpful to have the right support team—these are trusted individuals such as a physical therapist, counselor, or other people with chronic pain, who can assist you in making decisions on how to best approach both pain management and mental health recovery.
Getting Treatment for Pain and Depression
When it comes to treating depression and chronic pain, it’s important to address both aspects simultaneously for the best results. Things like setting aside the time to work on your mental health, seeing a counselor, and doing talk therapy (or other forms of treatment) can be extremely beneficial in helping you to cope with the trials of chronic pain. While the goal to eliminate stress entirely can’t always be accomplished, taking some steps to reduce stress can, in turn, reduce additional pains as well as symptoms of depression.
As always, if you are struggling with your mental health because of chronic pain, know that you are not alone. Chronic pain advocacy groups can help you to find your voice when you need to speak up, reach out, and find even better ways to cope with chronic pain.
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