The Pain-Depression Connection

Depression is not a disease that you need to feel embarrassed about or blame yourself for.

It is just like catching an infection or getting fever. Something you had no part to play in. So the most important thing to remember about Depression is burning the stigma around it.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, someone who has depression and a chronic illness like Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia or Chronic Back Pain may be less likely to take regular treatment, and more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, eat poorly, neglect physical activity, as a direct cause or consequence of the pain. This greatly affects his / her psychosocial well-being, thereby leading to poorer outcomes in the management of the illnesses.

Theories About Pain & Depression

  • Depression leads to lifestyle changes that can worsen pain: Less physical activity, less social participation, smoking and/or consumption of alcohol and poor sleep quality. These factors have been shown to aggravate pain and even poor bone health.
  • Clinically depressed patients with muscle, bone or joint diseases have an extremely low self-esteem and develop a negative defeatist attitude to life. Their mind and body is active but mobility is impaired and/or painful, further complicating their ability to function in life. Interestingly, research suggests that being depressed can worsen the pain. It is a vicious cycle.
  • Both conditions – pain and depression, have common biological pathways and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Stress, anxiety and depression influence pain levels. The pain you experience due to your physical illness is usually amplified due to depression.

How Can You Recognise Depression?

Depression is a medical condition that requires treatment and help by a doctor. Seek help if you have any of the following symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling low spirited for two weeks or more.\
  • Relationships and job getting severely affected.
  • Having thoughts of harming yourself.
  • Having persistent physical symptoms like headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pains.
  • Sleeplessness or oversleeping.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating.
  • Frequent tears and sadness.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Little appetite for things you used to enjoy.
  • Chronic fatigue and irritability
  • Restlessness or moving about in slow motion.
  • A feeling of worthlessness or pervasive guilt.

What Should You Do About Depression?

  • Seek Counselling: Your doctor will suggest you medicines for your physical ailment to subside. But if the pain is overtaking you mentally, don't hesitate from reaching out for help. Approach a psychologist or a therapist. It is important that you recognize and acknowledge that you are suffering from depression. This will help you balance your physical and mental health. For moderate to severe depression, medication plus psychotherapy is required with collaboration between a psychiatrist and psychologist.
  • Talk About It: Join arthritis or chronic disease related self-management or support group to learn coping techniques and understand that you're not alone in it. Even speaking to your closest family or friends can lead to a substantial decrease in mental distress and anxiety.
  • Get Moving: Exercise is nature's mood lifter. Regular physical activity, including exercises designed to improve range of motion (ROM), strength and cardiovascular fitness, have shown to relieve depression symptoms by actually increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and other mood-related brain chemicals.

Enjoying life is an achievable goal.


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