I ran across this article here about how people who suffer from chronic pain have a higher suicide risk, no matter if depression is involved or not. My first thought was “well, duh.”
Not a day goes by that I don’t read an article about how people in pain are denied medication because they might get addicted. Instead they’re told that if they really wanted to manage pain they should practice yoga, meditation, massage, hypnosis, giving up your first born child, change of diet, organ transplant (without pain killers, only addicts need those), sacrificing goats (but only during a full moon), you name it. If they tried those things are they didn’t work then they are told they really didn’t want the pain to go away and should see a psychologist because no one needs pain killers. “If you just try hard enough and have a good enough attitude the pain will go away.” I don’t think this represents a comprehensive understanding of pain.
It’s practically a criminal offense to be on painkillers these days, and anyone who is on them regularly gets treated like they are the lowest of scum and that’s for the people lucky enough to find a doctor willing to treat them. Heaven forbid you go to a new doctor and ask for pain to be treated. Thanks to the drug addicts we have a whole class of people being denied pain medicine because they are labeled as drug seekers and crazy people. “We wouldn’t want you to get addicted” is the usual excuse. No one recognizes there is a difference between addiction and dependence.* So it’s a surprise that the only way out people see is suicide?
When you are in pain it is so hard to focus on anything else. Add to that being treated as a druggie and a crazy person. Add to that the effects that chronic pain adds to a person’s life. They have friends who are leaving, family members who don’t believe them, they may be too disabled to leave the house, they may have lost their job, and their doctors won’t treat them. When you add all these things together, it can feel that there is no way out and nowhere left to turn. And again, it’s a surprise that people in pain kill themselves?
Maybe instead of focusing on how many pain patients commit suicide we should focus on why and what we can do to fix it. Try treating patients like human beings to start. Get to know them and if they are truly in pain, treat the pain, or even better, find the cause for the pain. Don’t hand over a referral to a psychologist and a prescription for antidepressants without even looking at the patient. Don’t treat a person in pain like a criminal. Have them try all the alternatives to pain medications, but don’t demean someone if the alternatives don’t work. Be a real doctor, or a real friend, or a real family member. You could save lives.
*Note to doctors and other judgmental people- Addiction is a neurobiological disease characterized by: compulsive drug use, poor control over drug use, continued use of drugs despite mental, physical, and social harm, and craving for the drug. Physical dependence is the body’s adaptation to a particular drug. In other words, the individual’s body gets used to receiving regular doses of a medication.