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Pain Awareness Month: 5 Ways Chronic Pain Impacts Mental Health

By HERWriter
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Pain Awareness Month: 5 Ways Chronic Pain Hurts Mental Health Andy Dean Photography/PhotoSpin

September is Pain Awareness Month, and it’s time to shed some light onto the struggles of people who live with pain, especially chronic pain. One aspect of chronic pain that is not discussed nearly enough is the mental health connection.

The mind is certainly not separate from the body. And for people with chronic pain, sometimes the mind-body connection turns sour. In fact, people suffering from chronic pain are at a higher risk for mental health issues and disorders, according to Mayo Clinic.

If you’ve ever pulled a muscle in your back, try to imagine living with that pain daily for years with little to no relief.

Here are five examples of chronic pain and how they can impact mental health. They're also examples of how mental health issues can in turn affect or lead to chronic pain.

1) If you already have depression, chronic pain can make symptoms worse and can also be a risk factor for suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

People with depression are also known to have more body aches, and more pain in general. Physical symptoms of depression include cramps, gastrointestinal problems and headaches that aren’t generally treatable.

2) Harvard Medical School also points out that pain itself can be depressing. If you think about it, pain limits activity and sometimes limits social interaction, which can lead to low mood. Depression can also just make pain that much worse.

3) On another note, pain and depression, as well as other mental health issues like anxiety and insomnia, are treated by the same or similar medications, according to Harvard Medical School.

For example, amitriptyline is an antidepressant that is sometimes used to help people in pain. This demonstrates the biological/chemical link between physical pain and the mind.

4) A 2013 Canadian study found that younger, unmarried adults with migraines who had activity limitations were more likely to have depression and suicidal thoughts.

“For both genders, migraineurs under the age of 30 had at least six times the odds of current depression and four times the odds of lifetime suicidal ideation when compared to those aged 65 and above,” according to the study published in the journal Depression Research and Treatment.

5) According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are many pain disorders that are associated with anxiety including arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines and back pain. Pain is actually a major symptom of anxiety, which includes muscle tension and soreness.

What are some other ways that you think chronic pain influences mental health (or vice versa)? Please share in the comments.


American Chronic Pain Association. September is Pain Awareness Month. Web. September 1, 2014.

Mayo Clinic. Mental illness. Risk factors. Web. September 1, 2014.

National Institute of Mental Health. Depression and Chronic Pain. Web. September 1, 2014.

Fuller-Thomson, Esme; Schrumm, Meghan and Brennenstuhl, Sarah. Migraine and Despair: Factors Associated with Depression and Suicidal Ideation among Canadian Migraineurs in a Population-Based Study. Depression Research and Treatment. 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/401487. Web. September 1, 2014.

Harvard Medical School. Harvard Health Publications. Depression and pain. Web. September 1, 2014.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Chronic Pain. Web. September 1, 2014.

Reviewed September 2, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

Chronic pain causes anxiety and depression not the other way around!

September 20, 2014 - 9:20pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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