When the Mind Causes Pain
Susan, a 40-year-old school teacher, was suffering from daily headaches, neck pains, shoulder pains, chronic feelings of tension and sleepless nights. After performing a number of diagnostic tests and a thorough examination, Susan's physician informed her that her X-rays, blood tests and MRI indicated she had no physical problems. Yet Susan's pain was very real. To her surprise, her doctor told her that her physical pains and discomforts were symptoms of depression. Susan is one of several people who tell their stories of painful physical symptoms disrupting their lives in a video titled "When the Mind Causes Pain." The video was produced by Freedom From Fear, a nonprofit mental illness advocacy organization.
Freedom From Fear began its focus on pain and depression with a survey to explore the impact of physical symptoms on an individual's work, social life and family life. The survey, conducted last May, revealed that almost 90 percent of the participants believe depression or anxiety could cause painful physical symptoms. Also, 50 percent of the participants who were diagnosed with arthritis, migraines, diabetes and other medical conditions with painful symptoms reported increased pain on days when they felt anxious or depressed. Some of the other findings indicated that 60 percent of the participants with undiagnosed medical conditions experienced moderate to severe changes in their physical symptoms on days they felt anxious or depressed. "The connection between physical pain and emotional pain is very well documented in the medical literature," said Mary Guardino, executive director and founder of Freedom From Fear.
"Among patients with depression, 80 percent first present to their doctors exclusively with physical symptoms. The most common are: joint and back pain, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness and headaches. In fact, patients with painful physical symptoms are three times as likely to experience high depressive symptoms," she said. Chronic pain affects more than 40 million Americans each year. Depression affects more than 19 million. The numbers are staggering. The cost in human suffering is immeasurable. Yet, there are safe, effective treatments available, and people can improve their quality of life, even if they are experiencing painful symptoms. A feeling of well-being is a joint effort of the mind and body working together.
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