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Expert pain panel

Emotional impacts of life with chronic pain

Deirdre Ryan

Chair of Chronic Pain Ireland and Pre-Accredited Psychotherapist

Life with chronic pain can worsen our mental health; and in turn, poor mental health can worsen our perception of pain.

“Chronic pain can impact every facet of everyday life resulting in low self-esteem and loss of meaning. Patients often question what this new life with chronic pain will look like. Research shows a high comorbidity of chronic pain with depression and anxiety, but one, often overlooked issue, is grief. 

Many of those we support mention what they ‘used to’ be able to do and compare life with chronic pain with life before. For example, “Well, I was always the one everyone came to for help. How will I ask them?”, or, ”I used to be able to weed the whole garden, but now I can only manage 10 minutes, then I can’t do anything else for the rest of the day”.

There are huge losses associated with any chronic pain or health condition. Loss of hopes and dreams of the future. Similarly loss of identity or role in the family or at work. This loss of physical capacity and dignity are just a few.

While treating the physical problem is usually the main approach, life with chronic pain is complex and usually involves a psychological component. Often, what patients hear is that it’s, ‘all in their head’.

But what we think and feel impacts how we perceive pain, and life with chronic pain will impact our mental health. It’s vital that anyone with chronic pain addresses their mental health and allows themselves the time to grieve and adjust to life with a chronic condition. 

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