If you or someone you love lives with chronic pain, you might have noticed that their symptoms are not always just physical. Rather, there’s a strong tie between physical and mental health. Specifically, there is a distinct connection between chronic pain and depression.
If you have chronic pain and depression, you might be wondering about how these two are connected, what the symptoms for each look like, and if there is effective treatment for both. Let’s get into all of your questions so that you can better understand the ways in which chronic pain and depression are linked.
What Is the Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Depression?
Put simply, depression and chronic pain have a strong correlation. This means that many people who have chronic pain also struggle with depression. In fact, studies show that up to 85 percent of people who live with chronic pain are either diagnosed with or experience debilitating symptoms of depression.
Experts believe that there could be a biological link between these two experiences, but more research is necessary to really understand how the body’s pain might physiologically impact the mind. That said, there are a lot of other factors that influence the connection between living with pain and dealing with depression, including:
- Social isolation
- Lack of energy
- Inability to do hobbies, work, etc.
- Insufficient pain management
The reality is that people who have chronic pain end up facing different challenges than people in the general population. Chronic pain can occur for a wide variety of reasons, from genetic conditions to service injuries—all of which can leave people unable to function as they normally would.
Some people with chronic pain are able to get by with accommodations and the right pain management. But for others, chronic pain interferes with their ability to work, build healthy relationships, and simply enjoy life. As a result, people with chronic pain often start having symptoms of depression as well as other mental health concerns.
What Are the Signs of Depression in People with Chronic Pain?
It’s important to note that, just like chronic pain, depression looks different for each person who experiences it. These can involve physical and emotional symptoms. With that in mind, many of the frequently seen physical symptoms of depression include:
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Body aches
But as you can see, the traditional symptoms of depression can easily be mistaken for the symptoms that come with chronic pain. Experiencing fatigue, troubles sleeping, and body discomfort go hand-in-hand with chronic pain as well. So how can you tell if what you are experiencing is chronic pain, depression, or a combination of both?
This is where reflecting on the emotional symptoms can be helpful. Depression is more than just feeling sad every once in a while—rather, people with major depression struggle with consistent feelings of sorrow or hopelessness. They might also have difficulties with self-care and find it difficult to take care of themselves and their environment.
Additionally, people who have depression and chronic pain are at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder. This is especially true when people with chronic pain are prescribed opioid painkillers. While pain medication is sometimes necessary to manage the symptoms of chronic pain, it’s no secret that this method of treatment comes with its own risks. Some signs of a dependency on opioids would be:
- Taking the medicine outside of the prescribed dosage
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms without the medicine
- Using the medicine in times of emotional distress
More often than not, people with chronic pain and depression are just looking for a way to alleviate their symptoms and feel like themselves again. But this is exactly why it’s so important to get the right kind of treatment. Without the right pain management and without the right mental health interventions for depression, people with these conditions will only continue to struggle.
Are There Treatment Options for Mental Health Issues Related to Chronic Pain?
There are many different treatment options for mental health issues related to chronic pain. Some of the most beneficial treatments would be:
- Physical therapy or exercise—Experts report that physical exercise can have a direct and beneficial impact on mood and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. However, for people with chronic pain, exercise can be a challenge. It’s essential to find movement that does not add more pain. This is where working with physical therapists could come in handy. A physical therapist might be able to recommend certain exercises or stretches that will ease your discomfort and help you build strength over time. In turn, feeling better physically will help you to feel better emotionally as well.
- Antidepressant medications—If you’re struggling with chronic pain and depression, talk to your doctor about the options with antidepressant medications. Not only can these medications work to address the mental health symptoms you are experiencing, but in some cases, antidepressants have actually been helpful in slowing down pain signals from reaching your brain.
- Mental health treatment centers—Combining physical movement, medication, and professional mental health treatment is usually the most effective plan to help with chronic pain and depression. There are depression and chronic pain rehabilitation programs that can help you to recover from all of your symptoms. This is also where you can get dual diagnosis treatment for mental health and any substance use challenges. Talk therapy, recreational activities, and group sessions are all effective methods you might experience in treatment. At these facilities, they use a team approach to make sure that you feel good from head to toe. More than that, they work to make sure that you have the skills necessary to stay feeling good after your time in treatment.
What Should You Do Next?
Now that you know a little bit more about the relationship between chronic pain and depression, you might be wondering what your next steps are. Always speak first with your doctor to know what your options are when it comes to coping with physical and mental health symptoms.
Know that you can also combat some of the loneliness that comes with chronic pain and depression by joining the Pain Resource Community. This is a community of people who are going through similar experiences—people who are looking to get and give advice on living with chronic pain. Asking questions, sharing your voice, and connecting with others is essential on your journey toward less pain and more happiness.
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