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The unhealthy relationship between depression and pain

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest.  Pain is the regular feeling of discomfort, even during everyday routine activities. 

Pretty obvious, right?  But did you know that the same way that you can see lightning before you hear thunder, pain can foreshadow depression?

The most common characteristic that precedes depression is a generalized pain that that can keep someone from performing their normal, daily activities. Other symptoms such as low energy, disturbed sleep, and constant worrying also show up among individuals with pain who are later diagnosed with depression.

According to research done at Harvard University, more than 50% of depressed patients who visit their family doctors complain only of physical symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms include regular headaches, backaches, or arthritis. Studies suggest that if physicians evaluated all pain patients for depression, they might discover that 6 out of 10 patients who experience pain should be diagnosed with depression.

Pain not only makes it harder to recover from depression, but also makes depression more difficult to treat. This is because a common symptom of depression, isolation, makes it very difficult for patients who are depressed to ask for help. The inability to ask for help leads to further depression. The feeling of depression is so overwhelming and exhausting that one may not even notice they are in pain due to their mental illness. In the same way, pain causes can also cause a fear of movement. This increases the amount of pain an individual feels, triggers immobility, and leads to worsened depression.

Pain and depression feed off of themselves, by changing both brain function and behavior.

If you or a loved one is stuck in the cycle of pain and depression, asking for help is the first step in getting back to the life you want.  Take that step and call us or call your primary care doctor today!

Author
Angelo Sambunaris, M.D.

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