Chronic Pain: The Impact on Mental Health

By Nichole Wright, MA, LPC

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “about 50 million adults have chronic pain”. Chronic pain can be the result of many types of conditions and illnesses. In this article, I will focus specifically on migraine headaches. Migraine headaches are the third leading cause of chronic pain. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, “39 million people including children are affected in the U.S. and one billion worldwide”. Migraine headaches disproportionately affect women. Women suffer from migraines three times more than men (women 18%, men 6%) totaling about 28 million women in the U.S.

Chronic pain negatively impacts the complete well-being of a person. Mental health is an area of concern for those with chronic pain. Migraine headaches are listed as a hidden disability. A hidden disability is one that is not visible to the eye. More than 90% of migraine sufferers are unable to work or function normally during a migraine episode. Migraine headaches are a public health issue with serious social and economic consequences that significantly diminish a person’s quality of life and tremendously impacts mental health.

Beyond the burden of a migraine attack itself, having migraines increases the risks for other physical and psychiatric conditions. Depression is the #1 mental health condition diagnosed in migraine sufferers. Migraine often isolates sufferers from others due to the debilitating effect. Migraine sufferers typically do not seek treatment and often exhibit signs of depression that go undiagnosed such as, sadness, irritability, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, insomnia or hypersomnia, diminished ability to think or concentrate, muscle pain, and tension. Gaining a solid understanding of the impact and role of migraine headaches on mental health is important in providing effective mental health treatment.

Subject areas to consider when working with migraine sufferers are not limited to:

  • Techniques to address pain, frustrations, fatigue, and isolation.
  • Appropriate exercise for maintaining and/or improving strength, flexibility, and endurance. This could include physical therapy.
  • Appropriate use of medications.
  • Management of depressive symptoms.
  • Recognizing and understanding triggers.
  • Proper/correct breathing techniques.
  • Relaxation techniques. This could include massage therapy and mindfulness training.
  • Healthy eating habits.
  • Communicating effectively with family, friends, and health professionals.
  • Evaluation of new treatments.

There are multiple resources and information on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website and also throughout local communities. If you are someone with migraine headaches it is encouraged that you reach out to healthcare professionals for treatment and resources to manage symptoms and increase your quality of life.

 

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