Deep Bench: Chronic pain and mental health

WAUSAU, Wis. (WZAW) -- Chronic pain affects every aspect of your life, including your mental health.

“Our brain processes pain in the same brain areas as it does emotions and sleep. The brain feels threatened, because there’s pain signals coming in,” said Judy Lemke, a counselor at Behavioral Health Clinic in Wausau. “It elevates the anxiety and depression levels.”

Sometimes patients are so focused on alleviating their physical pain that they end up neglecting the psychological effects of their chronic pain. But Lemke said that it’s something that should not be ignored, because your heightened emotional response can, in turn, elevate your physical pain.

“It becomes this vicious cycle.”

In a 2006 study, 77% of people who suffered from chronic pain reported feeling depressed. Over 85% of chronic pain patients said that they had difficulty sleeping.

“The more severe the pain, studies are showing, the more severe the likelihood of depression,” Lemke added.

It is also common for people with chronic pain to have sleep disturbances, fatigue, trouble concentrating, decreased appetite, and mood changes.

“Oftentimes people with chronic pain are reluctant to share with their health care providers that they’re having a difficult time managing their pain, because they don’t feel they’re going to be believed, so they’ll hide those depressive feelings and those feelings of anxiety,” Lemke explained.

The point Lemke wanted to drive home was that it’s very common for mental health to be affected by chronic pain, and there’s no shame is seeking help.

“Talk about the mental health concerns you have and get a referral.”
Some things people can do on their own is not isolate, try to stay physically active within their own limitations, seek support from friends or family and practice meditation and mindfulness.