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Effects of Chronic Pain on Mental Health

  • Doctors identify two main types of pain: acute and chronic. Acute pain is an immediate indicator that your body has been injured, sometimes seriously. Typically, it stays present as long as the initial injury exists. However, chronic pain lasts for months or years, reducing your ability to go about your daily business. This pain can relate to the ways your body healed, or failed to heal, after the initial injury. People who suffer from chronic pain are often unable to work or even perform everyday activities around the house. This long-lasting pain can impact not only your body, but also your emotional health.


    Chronic pain sufferers are often prone to mental and emotional difficulties for several reasons. They can be burdened by the severity of their pain, the amount of time their pain lasts, the inability to go about daily routines, and the frequent feeling of being a burden on friends and loved ones.  Some of the most common mental health problems chronic pain sufferers go through include depression, anger, and low self-esteem. These problems can lead to worsening of pain symptoms or even to an inability of doctors to adequately treat the pain.


    Chronic Pain and Depression

    Medical professionals have long known that there is a strong link between chronic pain and depression. According to Dr. Michael Clark, the director of the pain treatment program at Johns Hopkins Hospital, “Approximately one-third to three-quarters of people with chronic pain experience moderate to severe depression.”


    Other studies suggest that up to 60 percentof patients who suffer from chronic pain also suffer from depression. This link, known to researchers as the “pain-depression dyad” seems to have an exponentially damaging effect on sufferers.


    One reason for this connection is that depression and pain receptors share some of the same nerve pathways. A vicious cycle can develop where the pain gets worse, causing the depression to get worse, which makes the pain worse, which makes the depression worse, and so on.  The existence of pain makes depression more difficult to treat, and the existence of depression makes pain more difficult to treat.


    This interdependence has implications for treatment of the physiological symptoms, as well. Depression has been found to lower a patient’s response to painkillers and other techniques for reducing the pain. This is why a patient suffering from chronic pain will often have to be treated for depressionbeforeit’s possible to treat them for their chronic pain.


    Research suggeststhat the pain-depression dyad is often accompanied by sleep dysfunction. All three of these conditions further compound the effects of each other.


    Chronic Pain and Anger

    Chronic pain can be an overwhelming experience, leading to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and resentment. When faced with the everyday reality of experiencing constant pain, an individual may develop feelings of anger, or at the very least, frustration. Such pain changes the quality of life and when it is ever-present, it may seem to dominate almost every waking moment.


    One of the ways to work through the mental health difficulties brought on by chronic pain is to talk to a psychologist. A good psychologist can help you develop a planto deal with your chronic pain. Often, the anger a person feels when going through chronic pain can be a response to feelings of helplessness and a lack of control. Even if putting together a plan for managing the pain doesn’t bring complete relief, the simple act of preparing the plan can provide a degree of control over your pain. For some, gaining a sense of control can reduce the feelings of anger because it brings relief to a sense of helplessness.


    Chronic Pain Isolates Sufferers

    One of the primary reasons that ongoing pain makes suffers more vulnerable to mental health problems is the isolation it causes. Pain creates distance between the sufferer and their families, friends, communities and co-workers. The sufferer may not want to continually talk with others about the pain they experience and its constant presence may make it hard for them to interact in ways they used to.  A person suffering from pain may choose to keep to themselves to avoid being a burden on others or to avoid reminders of how their quality of life has changed. Withdrawal from others can make their suffering even worse.  Consider all the ways social isolation impacts our lives. It hinders sleep, accelerates cognitive decline, creates inflammation and increases a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke.


    Though medical and psychological practitioners have some understanding of pain and how it affects sufferers, chronic pain is nonetheless a subjective and sometimes inexplicable experience. It is important for those treating a person suffering from chronic pain, as well as friends and family, to continually engage the person. Others can play a role in reducing the impulse to isolate. Doing so requires diligence, an effort which can be hard to sustain. Unfortunately, we are struggling to come up with solutions to the problems chronic pain sufferers face.


    Chronic Pain May Merit Legal Help

    If you suffer from chronic pain on account of an injury sustained because of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. This compensation doesn’t erase pain, but it ensures that a sufferer will have the means to seek treatment and cope with the financial fallout of a serious injury. The financial costs of an injury and subsequent treatment for pain can be such a burden that it, alone, contributes to the stress and strain which accompany the mental anguish of chronic pain. Compensation can serve another purpose, too. It can validate the existence of someone’s pain, which can be incredibly powerful force in the life of a person plagued by chronic pain.


    Whether you were injured in an automobile accident or some other type of accident, contact a lawyer experienced in chronic pain casesif you think it might have been injured due to someone else’s negligence. If you can make a credible personal injury case, you should be able to at least cover your medical expenses and lost wages.


    Some inexperienced lawyers will tell you that insurance companies won't pay much for chronic pain. This advice may cost you a great deal when the time comes to reach a settlement. The truth is, if you can prove you suffered serious pain for a long period of time, and that it had a profound effect on your life, your chances of securing meaningful compensation are greatly improved.