Addressing Chronic Pain & Mental Illness

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The Prevalence of Chronic Pain & Mental Illness

Mental health issues often co-exist with chronic pain, with 1 in 5 severe chronic pain sufferers also having a mood disorder like depression.

In addition to the physical impact on a person’s quality of life, chronic pain can strain a person’s cognition, leading to issues with concentration, low mood, stress and other factors that impact mental wellbeing. With these ongoing symptoms, it’s no surprise that depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are among the most common comorbid conditions.

Whilst chronic pain and self-harm may not seem related, chronic pain that leads to low quality of life and co-existing mental illness can result in extreme outcomes. According to Suicide Prevention Australia, individuals suffering from chronic pain are twice as likely to commit suicide than someone without chronic pain. In fact, the Department of Health estimate that 21% of suicides in Australia are attributed to chronic pain. It is therefore crucial that both the physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain are treated for better overall health outcomes.

Effective Management of Chronic Pain

The best way to effectively manage the effects of chronic pain is through Multidisciplinary Pain Management, where various specialists adhere to an agreed management plan to achieve the best overall outcome for the individual.

A pain management team usually includes a pain specialist, a clinical psychologist and a physiotherapist, as well as an occupational therapist if required. These clinicians may be located at different practices or be part of an integrated team based at the same location. The latter is the case for Black Swan Health’s chronic pain services.

Regardless of the professional team involved, addressing many of the physical and psychosomatic aspects of chronic pain requires active engagement from the individual. Self-management of pain has generally been found to be very effective, both at managing the pain itself and improving quality of life. For instance, this systematic review indicates that people experiencing chronic lower back pain that participated in self-management programs decreased pain by ~20%. Black Swan Health’s free Chronic Pain Program both educates and empowers individuals to better manage their chronic pain, by giving them knowledge and tools, as well as access to a specialised pain physician and allied health team.

Addressing Mental Health Issues in Chronic Pain Patients

The role of a clinical psychologist is to address the psychological barriers that may be affecting the recovery or effective management of chronic pain, as well as assisting the individual to establish and maintain positive mental health through active coping strategies.

Rachel Home, Clinical Psychologist (Reg) at Black Swan Health, has a special interest in chronic pain and mental health. Rachel draws on her experience working in Fremantle Hospital’s Pain Medicine Unit to highlight common psychological responses to chronic pain:

“I’ve noticed across my clientele that chronic pain (or any chronic illness) invokes a lot of grief. People can have a lot of difficulty accepting that their life has turned out to be so different from what they expected and hoped for. Working through that grief and reaching a place where clients are more accepting of their condition is essential if they want to find a better way to deal with their pain.”

“Feelings of hopelessness is another common challenge that we can help individuals suffering from chronic pain to overcome. I can’t overstate the importance of increasing a client’s sense of control – without it they won’t see the point in trying to actively manage their pain.”

A clinical psychologist can also diagnose and treat independent mental health issues that may become apparent throughout their chronic pain treatment. Black Swan Health’s counselling services can be engaged independently or as part of our multidisciplinary chronic pain program to help your patients with chronic pain.

To find out more about our free Chronic Pain Program, click here.

To refer your client to the program or our specialised pain management team, download the referral form here.