What's the link between chronic pain and depression?

Living with chronic pain can be tough.

It is unsurprising that people with joint pain are more likely to suffer from depression.

Some studies say that up to 20% of joint pain patients will suffer from depression.

According to the American Psychological Association, depression is characterized “by sadness, a lack of interest in daily activities, weight loss or gain, sleeplessness or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, help is available. We have listed some useful phone numbers and groups at the end of this article.

How are arthritis and depression linked?

The relationship between depression and chronic joint pain is complex.

Joint pain patients may experience swollen joints. Increased inflammation in the body is caused by the excess production of cytokines. 

“There is a well-documented event called cytokine-induced depression, where cytokines are increased, and depression occurs,” says Patricia Katz, PhD, professor of medicine at University of California San Francisco.  

Several studies show that increased inflammation in the body is linked with greater rates of depression. 

In addition, chronic pain can be very isolating and stressful. 

Releasing stress hormones over a long period of time can affect your mood, which can trigger depression in some people. 

Depression, in turn, can lower your pain threshold, creating a vicious circle effect.

Add in the difficulty of exercising with chronic pain, plus the impacts that chronic pain can have on personal relationships, career, and social life, and it is understandable that so many joint pain patients experience mental health challenges.

The good news is that rheumatologists are now better at asking patients about their mental health and connecting them with treatment and support.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, please talk with your rheumatologist.

Find help with depression and arthritis

You can also find help via the resources listed below.

If you need more support join online chronic pain communities like our Hand Pain community and Women with Rheumatoid Disease and find other people who understand.