Which Came First the Depression or the Pain?

Just like the age-old question “Which came first the chicken or the egg” the same can be said when it comes to mental health issues and chronic pain.

However, before we dig deeper into the origin story of an individual’s chronic pain, let’s take a look at exactly what chronic pain is defined as.

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, chronic pain is:

Pain that lasts more than several months (variously defined as 3 to 6 months, but longer than “normal healing”).

And, unfortunately, it is very common.

In 2020 the health and human services department published the results from a 2019 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) on chronic pain which showed that:

  • About 20.4 percent of U.S adults had chronic pain (defined as pain on most days or every day in the past 3 months).
  • About 7.4 percent of U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain (defined as chronic pain that limited their life or work activities on most days or every day for the past 3 months).

Furthermore, the periodical BMC Public Health, published research in the article entitled “Pain as a global public health priority,” which found that chronic pain is estimated to affect upwards of 20% of people worldwide, and accounts for 15% to 20% of physician visits.

That’s a lot of people in pain. So what is causing this pain?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are many causes of chronic pain.

Sometimes the pain may have started with an illness or injury that has since been resolved, however, the pain remains. While other times the source of the ongoing pain could be caused by arthritis or cancer.

However, what about the times when there isn’t evidence of illness, a past injury, or any other discernable cause such as arthritis?

When there isn’t any obvious evidence as to why someone is experiencing chronic pain, the problem could be caused by, or at least exacerbated by, mental health issues.

According to research published by The American Psychiatric Association, there is plenty of evidence to support that chronic pain and mental health problems contribute to, and even exacerbate each other.

In fact, chronic pain that is caused by a health condition such as cancer or arthritis can increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health disorders.

Chronic pain can also be brought on by high-stress levels, and sleep disorders which can increase depression and anxiety as well.

What about those of us that experienced pain after already being diagnosed with a mental health disorder?

When it comes to those of us already living with depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders, and/or other mental health issues, chronic pain can also be experienced as a result of these conditions.

In our next article, we will take a deeper look at the connection between mental health disorders and chronic pain. And, we will begin to take a look at the treatment options that are available to reduce this pain, while also addressing the mental health issues attached to it.

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