The Connection Between Chronic Pain and Suicide

Spine injuries can lead to chronic pain, which in turn may cause feelings of depression, anxiety and hopelessness.

See Study Demonstrates How Chronic Pain May Lead to Depression and Depression and Chronic Back Pain

Sadly, some people who experience these debilitating emotions admit their desire to end their own lives.

Where to turn if you are considering suicide

If you are considering committing suicide, please visit the "Suicide Help" page on the nonprofit website

The professionals at the site instruct suicidal people to "call 1-800-273-TALK in the U.S. or visit Befrienders Worldwide to find a helpline in your country. Or talk to someone you trust, and let them know how bad things are."

Basic facts about suicide and pain

To learn more about the relationship between suicide and pain, I contacted Jill M. Harkavy-Friedman, PhD, Vice President of Research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, to ask her what research shows us about the connection between the two.

See also 4 Tips to Help Cope With Chronic Pain and Depression

I asked her how we can help people who struggle with suicidal tendencies because of their chronic pain. She provided me with helpful information to share with all of our readers:

  • 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and potentially treatable illness including depression, anxiety, alcohol and other substance use
  • Chronic illness and chronic pain can increase risk for depression
  • Suicide is not a "normal" means of coping with prolonged pain
  • Pain medications have major effects on mood and impulse control
  • People with multiple risk factors including family history, previous attempt, chronic physical or mental illness are more vulnerable to suicide
  • People attempt suicide for relief from unbearable pain
  • Stigma can prevent people from offering or seeking treatment and medication

Observable signs of serious depression

If a person close to you shows any of these signs of serious depression, then they may need your help:

  • Unrelenting low mood, pessimism, hopelessness, desperation, and/or anxiety
  • Psychic pain and inner tension, withdrawal, and/or sleep problems
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
  • Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
  • Making a plan, giving away prized possessions
  • Sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm, obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications
  • Unexpected rage or anger
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What to do if you are concerned about someone

  • Ask them if they are considering suicide. You will not make someone suicidal and you will most likely help them.
    • Take it seriously. 50 to 75 percent of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member.
    • Make no assumptions about a person’s private thoughts.
  • Be willing to listen.
    • Start by telling the person you are concerned and give them examples of what worries you.
    • If they are depressed, don't be afraid to ask whether they are considering suicide, or if they have a particular plan or method in mind.
    • Ask if they have a therapist and are taking medication.
    • Do not attempt to argue someone out of suicide. Rather, let the person know you care, that they are not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary, and that depression can be treated.
  • Seek professional help. See "Find Help" from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
    • Encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately.
    • Individuals contemplating suicide often don't believe they can be helped, so you may have to do more.
    • Help the person find a knowledgeable mental health professional or a reputable treatment facility, and take them to the treatment.

In an acute crisis

If someone is threatening, talking about, or making plans for suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Remove from the vicinity any firearms, drugs or sharp objects that could be used for suicide.
  • Contact the person’s mental health clinician or primary care physician.
  • Take the person to an emergency room or walk-in clinic at a psychiatric hospital.
  • If a psychiatric facility is unavailable, go to your nearest hospital or clinic.
  • If the above options are unavailable, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- 8255.

Take-away message

  • People with pain do not choose to be in pain, just as people with mental disorders such as depression do not choose their illness.
  • Not everyone with chronic pain has a mental disorder or is at risk for suicide.
  • Suicide is a relatively rare event and does not represent a normal reaction to intense, prolonged pain.
  • Mental health treatment can help people at risk for suicide.

Suicide is a painful topic, but it cannot be ignored. If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to professionals for more help. No one has to suffer alone.

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