Study finds chronic pain a possible risk factor for suicide

Published: Sep. 10, 2018 at 5:39 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Tom Norris has lived with chronic pain for 30 years. Radiation during cancer treatment left him with constant pain in his leg, hip and spine, making even short walks very difficult.

"There's really nothing they can do to quote make me well, so I can do now is just deal with it," he says.

More than 25 million adults are living with pain in the U.S. Now, a new study in the

Annals of Internal Medicine

finds chronic pain may be a big contributor to suicide.

"We do know people with pain are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety to overuse or misuse substances. It's particularly important to ask about suicide and do a risk assessment to understand if anything can be done to keep them safe and prevent suicide," says Dr. Mark Ilgen, a psychiatrist with the University of Michigan.

The study looked at people who died by suicide in 18 states and found nearly 9% had documented chronic pain. 51% had opioids in their system when they died.

Pain management specialist Dr. Joseph Tu says it's important to talk to patients about the mental effects of their pain.

"Part of pain management is giving them strategies, alternative tools or different modalities to live with their condition," he says,

Tom used a prescribed opioid medication for nearly a decade to manage his pain, but now relies on other alternatives including epidural treatments. He also leads support groups to help others like him.

" I've asked who has thought of suicide somewhere in their journey, and all of us raised our hands," he says.

He says the battle to manage pain is as much a mental fight as it is physical.