Depression and pain: two conditions that can cause a lot of misery. Those who suffer from one or the other can often feel that it’s a fight they can’t win, but understanding that there’s often a connection between the two can be half the battle. Here are five things you didn’t know about the link between depression and pain.
A COMMON CONNECTION
It’s important to understand that there can be a connection between pain and depression, although it’s not always the case. “It is common for people who experience consistent pain to develop symptoms of mild to moderate depression,” explains Jennifer Kimmelman, LMFT and Somatic Psychotherapist of Madison Marriage and Family Therapy, PC. “If pain intensifies and intrudes in an individual’s daily activities, symptoms can increase to severe depression.” But just as understanding the link between the two conditions is vital, it’s just as important to realize that you can have one without the other. “I have worked closely with people who have experienced persistent back pain which is felt throughout the leg, who continue to live healthy lives without depression,” says Kimmelman. “The pain is managed in a specific way and these individuals continue on with their daily activities.”
PHYSICAL PAIN CAN HAVE EMOTIONAL CONSEQUENCES
Although someone suffering from pain-related depression may not realize it at the time, it’s natural for an injury to have emotional as well as physical consequences. Someone who is deprived — due to an injury or illness — of their livelihood or an activity that brings them pleasure is likely to experience a host of symptoms, including depression. “The most common example I have worked with are dancers,” says Kimmelman. “I was a dancer myself who was injured and from my own experience, as well as other clients I have worked with. the symptoms are very similar, loss of identity, sadness and anger, frustration, irritability and eventually depression.”
… AND EMOTIONAL PAIN CAN HAVE PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCES
Intense feelings of anger or sadness, suicidal thoughts, an inability to get out of bed or out and about… these are all commonly recognized symptoms of depression. But many people don’t realize that pain can be a symptom of depression, too. “When a body experiences depression, any number of symptoms arise, including but not limited to, loss of energy, achy feeling all over, headaches, weight loss or weight gain which can both be painfully felt in the digestive system,” says Kimmelman. The physical toll that depression can take doesn’t stop there. “[Some of these symptoms] can lead to hormone imbalance, which can lead to a whole host of ailments, common colds, painful menstrual cycle for women, indigestion, low grade fevers, headaches.”
RECIPE FOR A CURE
Finding relief for symptoms of pain and depression may not be as straightforward as simply taking medication or seeing a therapist; rather, the cure for any given patient can come in varied forms of treatment. Seeking professional help is your first step; ways to find a therapist include asking friends for referrals and going through your healthcare provider. Your therapist can help you organize your approach towards managing both your depression and your pain and assist you in exploring the many forms of treatment that are out there, which “can range anywhere between pain management such as medication, to talk therapy, to somatic psychotherapy, massage and aromatherapy, meditation, yoga,” explains Kimmelman. “It all depends on the individual’s experience and how they organize and develop a relationship to their pain.”
DON’T LOSE HOPE
One of the symptoms of depression is a feeling of hopelessness that can keep sufferers from seeking help. But it’s so important not to lose your vision of a happier, healthier you — as well as your belief that you can fulfil this vision. Even just taking the first step towards healing can lessen your feelings of sadness (although if it doesn’t, that’s no reason not to forge ahead). Help is out there; the easing of your pain — both emotional and physical — is in sight. “There are options, and if one doesn’t suit you, we will find one that does,” says Kimmelman. “Because change is an inevitable part of life, we can hope that with change and time, what might not have worked in the past may work in the present and/or future.” And looking towards the future is your first step in winning a difficult — but not impossible — battle.
Luisa Colón is a writer whose work has appeared in New York, Glamour, Discovery Girls, Mamiverse.com, and others.