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What is the Link Between Chronic Pain and Emotional Health?

As more research goes into chronic pain, it is becoming clear that there is a link between chronic pain and emotional health

As more research goes into chronic pain, it is becoming clear that there is a link between chronic pain and emotional health. Unfortunately, for those living with daily pain, the effects can be physically stressful and emotionally taxing.

In partnership with Bill Nelems Pain and Research Study, the University of British Columbia Health Lab has just released a study about the link between chronic pain and emotional health.

What is Chronic Pain?

According to Healthlink BC, chronic pain is pain that lasts for three months or longer. Pain is normal when you are injured or ill, but if that pain lasts for months or years, then there is something larger at play. 

Chronic pain can be experienced anywhere in the body. It ranges from varying degrees, whether it’s mild or debilitating enough to keep you from pursuing daily activities. 

Even though chronic pain is more common in older adults, anyone can suffer from it. It is also not a normal part of getting older. Older adults with long-term medical problems, like diabetes or arthritis, may be at risk of developing ongoing pain.

What Leads to Chronic Pain?

The direct cause of chronic pain is not always known. It can be due to a dysfunction in brain chemicals or a result of damaged nerves. In addition, it can be experienced without an apparent cause.

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain has a variety of symptoms, but the most common include:

  • Pain that ranges from mild to severe and does not go away.
  • Pain that is described as shooting, burning, aching, or electrical.
  • Tightness, soreness, or stiffness.

There are also some symptoms besides pain:

  • Feeling exhausted or wiped out
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Weakness
  • Loss of energy
Which Conditions Can Cause Chronic Pain?

There are a variety of conditions that can cause chronic pain. As previously mentioned, sometimes the cause is not known for the pain, but here are some conditions that may cause it:

  • Previous injuries 
  • Complications from surgeries
  • Back problems
  • Migraines and other types of headaches
  • Arthritis
  • Nerve damage
  • Infections
  • Fibromyalgia

What Were the Results of the Chronic Pain and Emotional Health Study?

Sample Characteristics

A total of 305 individuals participated in the research. Participants ranged from ages 18 to 89, with a median age of 55 years old. Regarding gender, 74% identified as female, 25% as male, and 1% as non-binary. Participants also identified as white (92.8%) or Indigenous or Metis (6.7%). Approximately 30% of respondents were retired, and 25.6% were on disability or medical leave. 

Key Results and Implications

The results showed that people who experienced others questioning the legitimacy of their pain were at a much higher risk for depression. In addition, the study concluded that discounting and invalidating people’s experiences mainly came from social services (like insurance companies, for instance), followed by work colleagues. 

What Do These Findings Mean?

According to these findings, it is essential to provide more education to society about chronic pain to have a better understanding. In addition, it is imperative to minimize the invalidation that people experience and understand social responses to chronic pain. This can be achieved through tools like public advocacy and education.

This study also highlighted that the feelings of shame regarding one’s pain could play a significant role by linking experiences of invalidation to depression. In essence, invalidating responses from other people can enhance feelings of shame and add an increased risk for depression. 

It would be especially beneficial to give a person with chronic pain outlets where they can discuss feelings of shame to alleviate symptoms of depression.

Lastly, this study determined that people who feel supported by their social groups are less likely to experience depression. That may be because these individuals don’t discount their pain. As a result, improving supportive social connections can be another method to protect people from the harmful effects of invalidating social responses to their chronic pain. 

What Are Some Resources for Chronic Pain?

For those living in BC with chronic pain, there are various resources:

  • Pain BC provides relevant information on chronic pain and wellness group-based support services. https://www.painbc.ca
  • The UBCO Interprofessional clinic has short-term and long-term therapy for a reduced rate. You can get referrals (including self-referrals) for the Walk-In Service or longer-term psychotherapy via telephone (250-807-8241) or through email ([email protected])
  • Kelty’s Key offers free self-help courses online for those grappling with chronic pain or mental health struggles.  https://www.keltyskey.com/courses/chronic-pain/

If you are looking for chronic pain help in your area, you can research resources on Google and see what is available to you.  

Chronic Pain and Emotional Health In Summary 

Patients who experience chronic pain can also have difficulties with their emotional health. Much of the depression and stress that comes with chronic pain is not being understood and having their pain dismissed. 

Since chronic pain can lead to mental health conditions like depression, it is necessary to improve the mental and emotional health of those individuals. This can be done by putting more supports and education into place so that others can better understand someone who is living with chronic pain. 

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.