Chronic Pain and Mental Health: Navigating the Overlap and Seeking Support

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Chronic Pain Can Impact Mental Health 

Chronic pain, or pain that endures for 3 months or longer, affects millions of people worldwide. Living with chronic pain is an arduous experience, both physically and mentally. Alongside their physical pain, individuals living with chronic pain often grapple with a range of mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse. Furthermore, many people with chronic pain experience sleep disturbances, and even develop sleep disorders. Such problems can exacerbate their struggles with both mental and physical pain. However, there are many resources available that seek to enable people living with chronic pain to cope with their conditions and improve their mental health.

Chronic Pain and Depression

Chronic pain is often linked to feelings of depression. The persistent and oftentimes debilitating nature of an individual's pain can significantly decrease their quality of life and make it harder for them to participate in social events or pursue hobbies. This can substantially diminish self-esteem. Along with this, people suffering from chronic pain frequently feel like there's no end to their torment, leading to a sense of despair and hopelessness. This too can trigger or exacerbate depressive symptoms. Additionally, chronic pain can give rise to chronic stress, which over time can create an imbalance of stress hormones in the nervous system. Changes in these chemicals have been associated with depression in many individuals. In fact, an estimated 35-45% of individuals enduring chronic pain also experience depressive symptoms.

Chronic Pain and Substance Abuse

Chronic pain is often linked to substance abuse, typically manifesting as drug dependence. Many patients with chronic pain resort to medication as a means to alleviate and manage their discomfort. Unfortunately, a majority of these pain medications, such as opioids, come with significant side effects and are highly addictive. Opioids flood the brain with dopamine, the "feel-good chemical," and are frequently prescribed for pain relief. Yet, they belong to the same drug class as heroin, making addiction a significant risk. In their quest for relief, individuals may frequently consume pain medication, which can lead to gradual desensitization to the drug's effects. Consequently, they might find themselves taking increasingly larger doses to achieve the same level of relief. This escalating use can heighten the risk of addiction and, in extreme cases, lead to the potential for drug overdose.

Chronic Pain, Sleep Disturbances, and Sleep Disorders

Individuals grappling with chronic pain frequently report sleep disturbances. Pain disrupts sleep patterns, leading to frequent nighttime awakenings, reduced total sleep time, and worsened sleep quality. These are symptoms typically associated with sleep disorders like insomnia. Subpar sleep has been found to intensify both pain and mental health  symptoms, thus exacerbating the suffering of those living with chronic pain.

Available Resources and Support

Though many people suffer in silence from the compounded impacts of chronic pain and worsened mental health, various resources are available to assist them in managing their mental health, drug dependence, or sleep disturbances. It is important to always consult with your doctor when exploring new treatment options. 

  • Therapy: Therapists can provide invaluable help in managing emotions, curbing negative thinking, and bolstering overall mental health. Resources like BetterHelp offer affordable therapy options, including financial aid if necessary, while 7 Cups of Tea provides free one-on-one or group sessions. Therapists who specialize in chronic pain struggles may be available nearby or online, as well. 
  • Medication: Antidepressants can help manage depressive symptoms. Consultation with a psychiatrist allows for access to the most suitable medication and a personalized treatment plan. 
  • Pain-Relief Alternatives: Many individuals opt for non-addictive pain-relief alternatives. Depending on the nature of one's chronic pain condition, they may benefit from NSAIDs, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Massage Therapy, Acupuncture Therapy, or Physical Therapy.  
  • Sleep Management: Although pharmacotherapeutic treatments for insomnia have limited efficacy with pain-induced insomnia, psychological and behavioral treatments effective against insomnia may help regulate sleep for individuals with chronic pain. 
  • Crisis Resources: For those in need of assistance with substance addiction, consider contacting the Substance Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. If you or a loved one experience suicidal thoughts, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

Ospina Medical Can Set You On the Right Path

Living with chronic pain introduces complex challenges to mental and physical health. However, with the various resources at disposal, individuals can begin managing these issues and improve their overall well-being. Seeking help for conditions such as chronic pain or mental illness should never be considered a weakness—it's a step towards hope and a better quality of life.

Remember that if you're experiencing chronic pain and its mental health impacts, consulting with a pain management expert like Dr. Matthew Kohler of Ospina Medical can be the first step towards improving your quality of life. Dr. Kohler takes a modern approach to pain management by working with patients to develop treatment plans free of opioid medication management. Don't hesitate to reach out, and start your journey towards a happier and pain-free life today.

Written By: Harshitha Mageshkumar

Edited By: Camden Rowe

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.