Addressing Persistent Pain & Mental Illness

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The Prevalence of Persistent Pain & Mental Illness

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

In addition to the physical impact on a person’s quality of life, persistent 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 persistent pain and self-harm may not seem related, persistent 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 persistent pain are twice as likely to commit suicide than someone without persistent pain. In fact, the Department of Health estimate that 21% of suicides in Australia are attributed to persistent pain. It is therefore crucial that both the physical and psychological symptoms of persistent pain are treated for better overall health outcomes.

Effective Management of Persistent Pain

The best way to effectively manage the effects of persistent 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 range of allied health professionals, 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 Persistent Pain Program, Turning Pain into Gain.

Regardless of the professional team involved, addressing many of the physical and psychosomatic aspects of persistent 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 persistent lower back pain that participated in self-management programs decreased pain by ~20%. Black Swan Health’s free Persistent Pain Program both educates and empowers individuals to better manage their persistent pain, by giving them knowledge and tools, as well as an experienced allied health team.

Addressing Mental Health Issues in Persistent Pain Patients

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

A Black Swan Health Clinical Psychologist with experience in persistent pain management highlights common psychological responses to chronic pain:

“I’ve noticed across my clientele that persistent 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 persistent 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 persistent pain treatment. Black Swan Health’s counselling services can be engaged independently or as part of our multidisciplinary persistent pain program to help your patients with persistent pain and overall wellbeing.

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

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