Chronic Pain and Depression
Depression is often associated with chronic pain because of the nature, duration and effects chronic pain can have on the life of the individual. Chronic pain can persist for months, even years, if not diagnosed and treated correctly. The presence of pain for such long durations can impact upon many aspects of the individual’s life ? ultimately affecting overall functioning and productivity.
A number of factors in chronic pain can lead to depression. Duration of condition, side effects of medication, sleep disturbances, restriction of mobility, along with many other negative events and stressors that those suffering from chronic pain have to deal with, can all lead to depression.
Duration of pain – The constant and never ending presence of pain, without any respite, can cause those suffering from chronic pain to become cranky, irritable, angry, hopeless and depressed. This is especially the case when chronic pain goes untreated for long periods of time.
Side effects of medications – Some of the pain killers and medicines prescribed for chronic pain can have unpleasant side effects. For instance, drowsiness, tiredness and/or weight gain – any or all of which may affect functioning and productivity – Can have a detrimental effect on mood.
Sleep – Individuals with chronic pain are often unable to sleep properly at night because of the pain and discomfort they experience. The continuous lack of sleep, over a period of time, can affect an individual’s mood, memory, concentration and ability to function, thus adding to their distress.
Mobility – Pain may also restrict an individual’s mobility. Because of the pain, chronic pain patients can have difficulty in moving around and performing even simple tasks. The debilitating effects of chronic pain may leave an individual suffering from it with very little to do except become totally preoccupied with the condition, thereby leading to depression, worry, stress and anxiety.
Chronic Pain patients may have to deal with many more negative events and stressors which could lead to depression – such as strained relationships with family and friends, loss of job, finances and/or increased stress upon their families. The negative events and stress, in addition to the pain, can lead these individuals to develop a poor opinion of themselves and view themselves as being weak and incompetent.
Physiological connection between Chronic Pain and Depression
Apart from being associated with depression because of the duration of the condition and its devastating effects on an individual’s life, chronic pain is also closely linked with depression physiologically. Both pain and emotions are controlled by the same brain areas. Thus the presence of any one – pain or depression – in an individual can deplete the body’s resources of its natural pain killers (endorphins) and other neurochemicals responsible for regulating mood and pain sensations. This could result in an exacerbation of the other condition. Anyone in pain is thus prone to some amount of alteration in mood and vice versa. 75% of individuals suffering from depression have pain complaints and 30% of patients with chronic pain suffer from depression – according to the National Pain Foundation.
Thus it is important that chronic pain is diagnosed and treated in time, so as to minimize the devastating effects it can have on the mind and body.