We have all felt pain in our life, whether a headache, stubbed toe or some other minor injury like a sprained ankle. For most of us, pain happens infrequently and is short-term, however; for nearly 8 million Canadians, pain is a daily and often agonizing experience.
The first week of November is National Pain Awareness Week in Canada, a time to raise awareness of and support for Canadians living with chronic pain. Chronic pain does not affect Canadians equally; according to the Canadian Pain Task Force Report which came out in March of this year, it disproportionately affects seniors, people living in poverty, people living with mental health and substance use disorders, people working in the trades and transportation industry, Veterans, Indigenous Peoples, certain ethnic and racialized communities, sexually and gender diverse persons, those who have experienced past trauma or violence, persons with disabilities, and women.
Chronic pain is pain that is persistent and lasts more than 3 months. Unlike acute pain which results from a sudden illness or injury, chronic pain is more subjective; the connection between an injury or illness and the pain being experienced might not be entirely clear and the severity of the pain may be greater than we might expect. Sometimes there is no obvious underlying cause for pain, but it is as real as if there were apparent tissue damage. Recognizing this, the World Health Organization has recently classified chronic pain as a diagnosis in its own right.
Mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked yet we don’t often talk about chronic pain and mental health and substance use in the same conversations. Chronic pain isn’t just physically difficult, it is also emotionally difficult, and it can lead to significant mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety. In some cases, it is hard to determine which came first – the pain or the depression. Chronic pain can severely impact a person’s ability to accomplish daily activities, stay employed and maintain social relationships. It is also common for people with chronic pain to have sleep disturbances, fatigue, and trouble concentrating. These negative changes in lifestyle can increase pain and lead to lower quality of life. In fact, a Statistics Canada study found that due to restrictions in day-to-day functioning, individuals with chronic pain were less likely to have flourishing mental health than were people without chronic pain.
To add to that stress, people with chronic pain experience a great deal of stigma and have difficulty getting appropriate treatment for their pain. Because people with chronic pain look well most of the time, others may not believe they are in pain or that the pain is as bad as it is. Chronic pain is still not well understood, and coupled with mental health stigma, it is not uncommon for people with mental illness to have their pain shrugged off. In response to the opioid epidemic there is a worrying trend of chronic pain patients, who have used prescription opioids to keep their pain under control for years, being forcibly taken off their opioid medications and left with no other affordable treatment alternatives. Unmanaged pain is a common driver to the street for relief, with the potential for overdose and death.
While there are significant challenges, it is possible to get pain under control and live well with the right medical treatments and psychosocial supports. People in pain do not have to walk this journey alone. In BC there are many resources and self-management tools to support both individuals with chronic pain and their family members. One such resource is our chronic pain support group. The biweekly, peer-led group is a supportive community for those living with chronic pain. Authenticity is the keystone of the chronic pain group—it is a safe environment where people can express how they are really doing, where there is no pressure to be a “good patient.” As pain is often unpredictable, the group happens online via Zoom to provide more accessibility. People can register for the group by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about the chronic pain group, including what participants have to say in our 2020-2021 Annual Report.
If groups aren’t your thing or you’re looking for other forms of support, you may find these other resources helpful:
Join Us for a Free, Virtual Screening Event
On November 16th we will be hosting a free, live virtual screening of the award-winning documentary This Might Hurt. A Q & A Panel with the film’s directors, chronic pain and mind-body approach expert Dr. Howard Schubiner and CMHA Program Manager, Elaina Moss.
This Might Hurt is a feature documentary about chronic pain & the opioid epidemic, as well as an in-depth exploration of a new evidence-based treatment that links chronic pain to stress and trauma. The film follows three chronic pain patients who have spent years searching for answers. Desperate for relief, they enter a new medical program — run by Dr. Howard Schubiner — that focuses on uncovering hidden causes of pain and retraining their brains to switch the pain off. The treatment was recently recommended by the National Institute of Health, and it’s called Emotional Acceptance and Expression Therapy (EA-ET). In the film, you see people go through powerful transformations as they overcome their chronic pain.
Physicians, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals, Psychologists and Counsellors may be able to receive 2 hours of CE credit for attending the event.
DATE/TIME: November 16th 4 pm – 6 pm
FREE REGISTRATION: https://bit.ly/2ZoUC1N