The Link Between Pain and Depression

The Link Between Pain and Depression

As humans, we love to organize and compartmentalize things. As a consequence, this leads many people to associate depression with mental health and pain with physical health. However, this natural impulse to create order can cause us to overlook the interconnected nature of our bodies and minds.

When it comes to pain and depression, these conditions have a very intimate relationship. For example, it’s depressing to experience pain. And, at the same time, being depressed can cause and worsen pain. This can be even more true with chronic pain, which can impact mood, thought, and behavior, and put a person at risk of immobility, isolation, and substance dependence.

At Compass Mental Health & Wellness in Houston, our experienced team understands the complex link between depression and pain. In this blog, they share their insights into these conditions and how to manage them.

Depression basics

Having depression describes a psychological state of persistent sadness that you can’t just “shake off.” Additional signs of depression include:

And, in many people, unexplained physical symptoms ― such as headaches or back pain ― can be the first or only sign of depression.

The problem with pain

On the surface, pain appears as a physical symptom, but it’s a highly emotional condition. You can have acute pain that’s temporary or pain that’s chronic, which is pain that lasts three months or longer.

In some cases, you can develop pain for an obvious reason, such as sustaining an injury or developing arthritis. However, you can also experience pain for no apparent reason or after recovering from whatever caused your initial symptoms.

Both acute and chronic pain can cause an emotional response, but chronic pain can take an even more significant mental and physical toll on a person. In addition to physical discomfort, it can also cause:

Plus, chronic pain can interfere with your ability to work or do things you enjoy.

The link between pain and depression

Experts estimate that up to 85% of people living with chronic pain also have severe depression. Similarly, people with depression are three times more likely to experience chronic pain. But why? Part of the answer lies with the processing of neurotransmitters.


Neurotransmitters are unique brain chemicals that act as messengers, carrying, boosting, and balancing signals passing between nerve cells ― or neurons ― and other cells throughout the body.

Simply put, they keep the brain functioning and manage all of our bodily functions, from breathing and heartbeat to learning and concentration. They also affect psychological processes, including mood, fear, pleasure, and joy.

Your brain and pain

When you have pain, your nerves send signals to your brain. Your brain has to process every message it receives and decide how your body should respond.

When it functions correctly, the brain diverts pain signals to the right areas of your brain for processing. For example, if you step on a rock, your heart rate might increase, you could break into a sweat, and you may even cry. You may even have a different response to stepping on a rock depending on your mood or past experiences. 

Unfortunately, the brain can also become overwhelmed by pain signals, which could impair the processing system. If this occurs, you may experience pain, even without a visible cause.

Your brain and depression

The area of the brain that manages pain signals also uses the same neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation, especially norepinephrine and serotonin. Without regulation, this imbalance can increase pain along with feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety.

Unfortunately, over time, chronic depression and chronic pain can change how your nervous system functions, which can perpetuate these conditions.

Finding relief from pain and depression

Fortunately, the intimate link between pain and depression means that nearly every medication used in psychiatry can also provide significant pain relief. This is due in part to how many of these drug classes work with neurotransmitters and the brain pathways involved in mood regulation and pain perception. 

While medication can offer significant relief in treating pain and depression, we also take a comprehensive approach to help our patients. These treatments combine natural remedies and counseling techniques designed to provide integrated solutions for people with depression.

As part of your treatment strategy, we may also recommend:

With our experience and customized approach for addressing depression in both adults and children, you can rest assured that you’ll find help managing your depression and pain.

For more information on the link between pain and depression, book an appointment online or over the phone with Compass Mental Health & Wellness today.

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