November 18, 2021

Chronic Pain and Mental Illness

By Pete Marlow
Mental Health & Wellbeing

Chronic pain can have myriad causes, including migraines, arthritis, lower back pain, fibromyalgia, just to name a few. For those suffering with chronic pain, mental health is a major concern. In a study published in the journal of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the researchers stated that between 33%-46% of people with chronic pain also experience some sort of mental health issue, compared to only 10% for the population not experiencing pain. There is obviously a close link between the two as a person struggling with chronic pain is more likely to experience feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. 

Common Negative Effects of Chronic Pain On Mental Health


Many people struggling with chronic pain were once active and gained a strong sense of self from their active lifestyle. If chronic pain comes and reduces the level of activity they’re able to enjoy, it can have a drastic negative impact on how they view themselves and the world. They may need to rely on others for help with more than they’re used to. Going from being an independent adult to needing help from others with common daily activities can cause a person to feel embarrassed and unworthy. 

Memory and attention

Up to two-thirds of people with chronic pain have been shown to have their brain activity affected by their pain. The pain causes disruptions in their ability to recall things and maintain focus. It can also have an effect on the brain’s ability to regulate emotions. 

Withdrawing from social activity

Often, people with chronic pain will avoid social situations. They may not have the energy to go out with others after trying to deal with their pain all day, and and they may think that going will only make their pain worse. Their relationships also are more likely to become increasingly strained as family and friends do not understand or / or empathize with what they are going through, which can increase the irritation they feel on top of already feeling irritated by their pain. All these things lead to people with chronic pain isolating themselves, which can increase their feelings of hopelessness and reduce their sense of self-worth. 

Reduced focus on self-care

 The importance of self-care can hardly be overstated and chronic pain has a severe impact on a person’s ability to participate in self-care activities. Such things as hobbies, exercising, and work become more difficult,, and the person dealing with the chronic pain can feel discouraged and may want to give up. 


Chronic pain has an obvious effect on a person’s ability to fall and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can lead a person to feel/be less productive at work and require naps during the day. Even when people with chronic pain can fall asleep, they do not find the sleep as restorative. 

Ways To Lessen Negative Effects

Seek out mental health treatment

A mental health professional can provide not just practical help like education on mindfulness practices, but also therapy which provides a space for people with chronic pain to feel heard and share their frustrations. This can be highly therapeutic as the person works towards the second thought on this list…


 The emotional effects of chronic pain are incredibly difficult to navigate. Every day it seems like you are given reminders that you are not who you once were. You need to rely on others more and that’s not easy. As a person is able to grieve what they once expected their future to hold,, they can begin moving into accepting that everyone needs help sometimes and their life will look different. They can begin to make new plans for the future. But be patient as this mental switch does not happen overnight. 

Communicating with loved ones

A way to combat the tension that can arise between someone with chronic pain and loved ones is for the person with chronic pain to be open about their feelings and needs. Also, setting boundaries with loved ones and letting them know what is possible can help reduce stress.

Developing a purpose

Once acceptance has been established, the person with chronic pain can begin to determine what their new purpose in life should be now that they are living with chronic pain. Even though your pain is real and can be debilitating, you can still create goals for the future which will in turn lead to a greater sense of self. 

If you are a person who struggles with chronic pain, reach out to a counselor at Optimum Joy today and set up an appointment! Sharing your experiences with a counselor can help reduce your feelings of isolation. A counselor can help you process your emotions, accept your current situation, and create goals for your future.

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