Chronic pain, the forgotten debate?
Inflammatory diseases that cause chronic pain can greatly affect the mental well-being of those suffering from them. In my opinion we lack a more open discussion about chronic pain on a societal level and within the academia.
In my psychology studies, only one professor spoke about clients suffering from chronic pain and the consequences it can have on their mental health. He was also the only person who listed research on chronic pain and its interaction with mental health on his literature lists.
Take fibromyalgia as an example. It is one of the most common chronic pain disorders. About 12,000 Icelanders have fibromyalgia at any given time and 3-6 % of the worldwide population suffer from it. Majority are women or 75-90 %. It affects various tissues within the body, e.g. muscle tissue and nerve tissue.
The condition can cause individuals to experience pain in their muscles and even in the skin. In addition, individuals may experience severe fatigue, dyspepsia, foot tightness, coldness, peripheral limb, joint pain, loss of memory, lack of concentration and depression. The senses can also become “too active”, which means that the threshold for e.g. too much brightness or noise is much lower than among other individuals.
It should be noted that different symptoms can affect different individuals, which causes fibromyalgia patients to have different experiences with the disease. There are many more inflammatory or neurological diseases that include chronic pain and this is just one example.
Long-term stress can be one root for inflammatory and neurological diseases, and it is important for fibromyalgia patients to avoid or reduce stress as best as they can. Malfunction in the nervous system is thought to be one of the causes of fibromyalgia, but the nervous system is closely related to the areas of the brain that interact with stress.
It is my hope that an open discussion and more widespread knowledge can raise awareness among individuals under a lot of strain. Stress can act like a fuel for inflammation which causes pain in the body. Persons experiencing excessive stress need to be aware if pain begins to develop in the body. Taking a step back and trying to reduce stress can have enormous effects on our health and well-being.
Finally, I would like to point out that individuals suffering from chronic pain have found it hard to find psychologists who have knowledge in this area and perhaps that is food for thought for future psychologists. Awareness of the interaction of chronic pain and mental health is at least something that is required.