The relationship between Chronic Pain & Mental Health


Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating and can have devastating effects on an individuals quality of life, independence, ability to work, relationships and overall well being.

*Trigger Warning* This article discusses suicide and it may be disturbing to some readers. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please, contact your physician, go to your local ED, or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating and can have devastating effects on an individuals quality of life, independence, ability to work, relationships and overall well being. Suffering from chronic pain can lead to poor mental health and people in this position are more susceptible to suicidal thoughts and ideation. Suicidal behaviour is two to three times more likely for people who suffer from chronic pain, than the general population.

People living with ongoing chronic pain experience much higher rates of mental health struggles and suicide. Depression is the leading mental health condition linked to chronic pain. Between 30% - 40% of people receiving chronic pain care and treatment have been clinically diagnosed with mental health conditions.

People who experience ongoing chronic pain are vulnerable to higher rates of substance misuse, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Just under a third of Australian adults with severe chronic pain face psychologic distress to some degree. This is an alarming increase compared to those with mild pain who are three times less likely and those with no pain who are six times less likely. While one in five with extreme pain will suffer from depression or other mental health conditions.

The correlation between chronic pain and mental health is undeniable and an improvement in policy priority and public awareness is urgently required, as it is detrimental to saving lives. It is evident that not enough is being done to remove barriers to accessing mental health care and receiving much needed support for people with chronic pain in Australia.

The first significant barrier is a lack of access. The majority of people who suffer from chronic pain do not have access to best practice pain services, including much needed mental health care. This can occur due to the cost of services or lack of accessibility due to location, such as living in a rural or remote town. Stigmas and stereotypes also play a role in preventing people seeking out the support they require.

Another barrier is the need for coordinated interdisciplinary assessment and treatment, by observing physical, psychological, and environmental risk factors in each patient. There is a need for a deeper understanding and application of a Biopsychosocial model of best practice, in order to cover treatment pathways for those with chronic pain and interlinked mental health conditions.

There is also a huge disparity between states and territories and the inconsistency is alarming. A unified commitment from all governments across Australia is desperately needed and the utilisation and implementation of existing programs. A lack of consumer awareness is another hurdle as individuals often feel misunderstood and isolated, silenced by doubt and isolating stigmas. This cycle prevents people with chronic pain from seeking help and ultimately leads to poor mental health. This goes hand in hand with the reality that most people don’t know the treatments available to them.

In recent years a change in perceptions and a better understanding of mental health has been evident in the general public. This is a huge improvement, yet we still have a long way to go with connecting the dots and acknowledging the relationship between mental health and chronic pain. The health care sector and the general public are in need of ongoing education of resources, support and services available to them. Along with the potentially life-saving signs to look out for, that indicate a decline in mental health in someone with chronic pain.

Hunter Pain is committed to our mission to deliver an unparalleled level of care, treatment and education to people living with persistent pain. We are motivated by our humanity, we will deliver this through our clinical diligence, ongoing research and education. We pledge our efforts to improve the lives of those in need with compassion and humility. Reach out to our team here.


Bennett, C., 2022. What you need to know about pain and mental health in Australia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 August 2022].

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