Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. As a global public health consultancy, we know that while the physical toll of this condition is well established, the impact on mental health is often overlooked. In this blog post, we unravel the complex relationship between chronic pain and mental health and explore strategies for coping in a holistic way.

Chronic pain, which is defined as pain that lasts for 12 weeks or longer, can have a profound impact on mental health. Some 20% of the world population suffers from chronic pain. The relationship between chronic pain and mental health is complex and bidirectional, meaning that chronic pain can contribute to mental health issues, and mental health issues can exacerbate chronic pain.

The impact of chronic pain on mental health can take many forms. Chronic pain is strongly associated with depression. The constant discomfort, limitations on daily activities, and the frustration of dealing with persistent pain can lead to feelings of hopelessness and sadness. Anxiety is another common mental health issue amongst individuals with chronic pain. Worries about pain flares, the inability to engage in certain activities, and concerns about the future can contribute to anxiety. . Chronic pain often leads to a decreased quality of life, as individuals may become less physically active, socially isolated, and less able to enjoy activities they once did. 

Man holding his left shoulder in black & white

Pain can interfere with sleep, and sleep disturbances. In turn, it can worsen both physical pain and mental health issues. Chronic pain can lead to irritability, mood swings, and even anger, as individuals struggle to cope with their condition and may find it challenging to communicate their needs. The limitations imposed by chronic pain can erode self-esteem, as individuals may feel less capable and less in control of their lives.

With so many negative impacts, it is important to know what can be done to address the impact of chronic pain on mental health. Effective pain management strategies are crucial. This may involve medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, or other treatments. Working closely with healthcare providers to find the right combination of treatments can significantly reduce pain and its impact on mental health. Seeking therapy or counselling can be highly beneficial. If depression or anxiety is a significant issue, medications may be prescribed to help manage these conditions, alongside pain management strategies. Maintaining a strong social support network is crucial.

Physical Therapist doing healing treatment on a man's back

Sharing experiences with friends and family members can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. If possible, staying physically active, even with limitations, can have a positive impact on both physical pain and mental health. Physical therapy or gentle exercises recommended by a healthcare provider can be helpful. Practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and relaxation techniques can help individuals manage their pain and reduce stress.

It’s important to recognise that managing chronic pain and its impact on mental health may require a multidisciplinary holistic approach involving healthcare professionals, therapists, and support from loved ones. It may take time and experimentation to find the most effective combination of strategies for each individual. As a global public health consultancy, we believe that with appropriate care and support, it’s possible to improve both physical and mental well-being in the face of chronic pain.

Please note, all content provided is for informational purposes, and is believed to be accurate and current at the time of posting. It should not, at any time, be used in place of appropriate professional or expert advice.