Chronic Pain and Mental Health

What does it mean to have chronic pain?

Pain is called “chronic” when it lasts well beyond the typical healing time for a particular injury. Chronic pain includes persistent pain that is resistant to normally effective treatment. For some, chronic pain is an experience that never lets up; for others, it reoccurs at different periods throughout their lifetime. Individuals with chronic pain often face challenges such as disability, difficulty working and emotional distress. The emotional distress often amplifies the pain. The experience of pain depends not only on a person’s physical sensation, but is largely affected by cultural and psychological factors.


Chronic pain and mental health

People with chronic pain have higher rates of mental health challenges than those without. This may include depression, anxiety, substance use, thoughts of suicide and more. To cope with the pain, they frequently use prescribed or unprescribed substances, which have the potential to be misused. It’s important to be mindful of this risk when experiencing ongoing pain.

The cycle of pain and emotional distress can lead to unhelpful thoughts and perceptions of pain, such as anticipating the worst possible outcome. This may also lead people with chronic pain to avoid situations they believe can cause more pain, including engaging in beneficial activities or behaviours. Avoidance can contribute to a pattern of disability, as they limit their potential or abilities instead of working to improve them. For example, they may avoid walking more then five minutes because they fear it will cause pain, when the walk would actually help their recovery.


Taking care of your mental health

While chronic pain is a physical experience, it is very closely related to mental health and well-being. As such, it’s important to find ways to cope with this experience and support your mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an option for improving your mental health while living with chronic pain. This treatment method addresses unhelpful negative thinking and avoidance behaviours, and encourages the use of positive coping and problem-solving strategies.