Millions of people suffer from chronic pain and, as a result, depression. Major studies have shown “that up to 85 percent of patients with chronic pain are affected by severe depression.” If you’re one of those people, you know how difficult either of these conditions can make your life daily, but the good news is that therapies like ketamine can treat both conditions over time.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is any kind of longstanding and persistent pain that doesn’t go away even with treatment, even after someone has recovered from an illness or injury suspected of triggering the pain. Chronic pain is generally regarded as one of the top healthcare problems in the United States related to cost. Higher medical expenses, lost wages, reduced productivity, compensation payments, and the cost of legal issues constitute the most significant economic penalties of chronic pain.
What is Depression?
“Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and home.” Fortunately, it’s a condition that is treatable.
Ketamine to the Rescue?
There are many ways to treat depression and chronic pain, either individually or simultaneously. One method growing in popularity is a powerful medicine used initially for anesthesia, ketamine. In the 1960s, people first discovered the treatment had other curative properties, including treating symptoms of mental illness and chronic pain. The medicine is believed to strengthen damaged neurotransmitters in the brain, which are critical in pain perception and how moods and emotions are regulated.
To be diagnosed with depression, you must exhibit any of the symptoms listed below for much of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks:
- Constant sadness, anxiety, or “empty” moods
- You feel guilty, worthless, or helpless
- You’re not interested in doing things you used to enjoy
- Low energy or tiredness
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Problems with cognitive processes
- Problems with sleeping, eating, and weight
- Preoccupation with death or suicide
- Mysterious aches and pains
Chronic Pain-Associated Depression
Pain and depression are closely connected. Depression can trigger pain – and pain can trigger depression. This can result in a vicious pain and depression vortex where the pain you experience worsens your depression symptoms, and the depression which follows can make the pain worse.
For many people, depression results in mysterious physical symptoms like back pain or headaches, but these “may be the first or the only sign of depression.”
Pain and its many related issues can grind you down like chalk in pavement and disturb your mood. If you suffer from chronic pain, it’s not unusual to experience many problems which can trigger depression, like issues with sleeping and stress.
And that’s not all. Incapacitating pain can harm your self-esteem because of work or financial worries or because it keeps you from doing things you enjoy, like hobbies or spending time with family or friends. The World Health Organization calls depression a leading source of disability.
In one report, the U.S. National Library of Medicine concluded: “Depression is more common in chronic pain patients (CPPs) than in healthy controls as a consequence of the presence of CP. At pain onset, predisposition to depression (the scar hypothesis) may increase the likelihood of developing depression in some CPPS. Because of difficulties in measuring depression in the presence of CP, the reviewed studies should be interpreted with caution.”
According to Harvard Medical School, greater than 50 percent of depressed people who see a healthcare provider complain solely of physical symptoms, with pain symptoms being reported most often.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you suffer from chronic pain or depression, the first step to getting better is seeing a healthcare provider for a diagnosis. There isn’t a specific test to diagnose chronic pain, but certain procedures may discover an underlying condition that results in related symptoms. Diagnosing depression may involve a physical examination but is more likely to require a mental health specialist to evaluate your symptoms and what may be causing them.
In either case, many treatment options exist to control depression or chronic pain, including medicine, different kinds of therapy, self-help or lifestyle changes, and perhaps ketamine infusion therapy.