The Relationship between Pain and Mental Health

Char B., Mental Health Literacy Team on August 13, 2018

Everyone experiences pain in their lifetime. However, many people experience chronic pain that may come in the form of mild pain or pain in short increments or for others it could restrict daily functioning. Chronic pain is not only related to physical impacts, but it can also have a big impact on an individual’s mental health.

Sleep. Pain can disrupt both your normal sleep cycle and your internal clock. This can mean that pain can make it hard to fall asleep and also to remain alert when you are awake.

Negative feelings.  Pain impacts all aspects of life and can restrict the ability to participate in normal activities. As a result, individuals may be more likely to experience negative emotions such as fear of being judged, shame or guilt.

Anxiety. Those who suffer from chronic pain have less control over their brain signals. As a result, when individuals anticipate experiencing pain they can become anxious.

Depression. Individuals suffering from chronic pain may be susceptible to a stronger emotional reaction to pain and often the lack of treatment options can intensify feelings of hopelessness.

The comorbidity of mental and physical challenges is well documented. Pain can contribute to mental health challenges, but having mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder can cause physical symptoms including pain. This is complicated by the fact that chronic pain and mental health challenges can share similar symptoms such as insomnia, changes in energy, appetite changes and muscle tension.

Here are some tips on managing the effects of chronic pain on mental wellness:

  • reduce stress where possible
  • recognize that everyone has limitations
  • set realistic goals
  • engage in physical activities that you can do safely and enjoy
  • try mindfulness
  • acknowledge the positive aspects of your life
  • stay engaged with family, friends and your community
  • seek help if you need it

For additional pain information and resources such as an online self-management tool, pain support line or pain podcast please visit painbc.ca  

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BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.