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Mental Health and Pain

The Relationship between Pain and Mental Health

Few researchers doubt there is a major connection between the mind and the body, and mental health can play a major role in chronic pain. Scientists have already established a connection between clinical depression and pain, and there also seems to be links between pain and anxiety. While nobody is quite sure why this is the case, these pain symptoms in individuals with mental health conditions are believed to be caused by imbalances of certain brain chemicals.

Mental Health and Pain

For example, serotonin deficiencies often accompany clinical depression. Serotonin is the body's natural "feel good" chemical, and if a person isn't making enough of it, they become more sensitive to the perception of physical pain.

A number of doctors and researchers have forwarded theories that the relationship between an injury and the level of pain experienced by the patient is highly dependent on the patient's mental state. In other words, people with certain mental health conditions and people in certain states of mind are more likely to experience severe pain than others.

Regardless of the root causes of such phenomena, managing chronic pain when you're also dealing with a mental health issue can be extremely burdensome. Fortunately, there are many different proven strategies for getting pain symptoms under control.

About Mental Health and Pain: Which Comes First?

One interesting consideration is that people who suffer from chronic pain are far more likely to develop clinical depression than the general population. Thus, while pain is a relatively common symptom of depression, it also appears that depression can develop as a result of chronic pain. This is especially true in cases where the pain symptoms have altered the patient's lifestyle, making him or her less mobile and more dependent on other people.

There seem to be similar links between anxiety and chronic pain. In essence, people with anxiety disorders are more likely to experience intensified pain symptoms, even when the underlying injury is not that serious. This may be because anxiety sufferers are more likely to worry about pain, thus contributing to its development and severity.

Unfortunately, there are few answers to why these correlations occur or how they can be prevented. Thus, treatment of depression, anxiety and pain is aimed at managing symptoms and helping the patient achieve the greatest possible level of personal comfort.

Managing Chronic Pain and Mental Health

First, it's important to consider the unique symptoms of people who are suffering from depression as a result of chronic pain, or vice-versa. Some of the most common complaints of such patients include:

  • Increased susceptibility to anxiety
  • Rapid and/or dramatic mood swings
  • Uncontrollable anger
  • Difficulty thinking clearly, completing complex tasks and/or solving problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • An increased (sometimes irrational) fear of injury
  • Financial, legal, interpersonal or family problems
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Social isolation
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia

Management of these symptoms typically requires a multidisciplinary approach. Some of the front-line treatments used by doctors include:

  • Specialized medications. While medication for mental health conditions and chronic pain can be delivered independently, there are also drugs which combine mood-boosting and analgesic action. Many patients report that these types of drugs provide more effective control over their symptoms.
  • Exercise. If the patient's condition allows, exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce both depression symptoms and pain symptoms. Numerous studies show that regular routines of intense cardiovascular exercise alleviate depression symptoms, so if the pain is caused by an underlying mood disorder, this approach could pay dividends.
  • Therapy. A number of different types of therapy, including cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) and group counseling, can help patients achieve better control over their symptoms. Group sessions also decrease social isolation, which can sometimes be a vital turning point for patients.

There's no need to suffer in silence. If you are developing symptoms of depression due to chronic pain, or if a diagnosed mental health condition is accompanied by pain symptoms, speak to your doctor.