13 More Reasons Why: Chronic Pain & Suicide
Netflix released an original series, 13 Reasons Why, taking us through the truth of teenage suicide while bringing awareness to the shadows of mental illness. For anyone who missed it, the series follows a teenage boy, Clay Jensen, on a journey to unfold the real-life story following his peer and secret (not so secret) crush, Hannah Baker, after she decides to commit suicide.
Jenson discovers an ambiguous shoe box sitting at his front door two weeks after Baker's death. The box contains 13 cassette tapes created by Baker before she died where she reveals the 13 reasons why she took her life. This complex and riveting account is told through the eyes of Jenson and Baker as he listens to each tape and realizes how the actions, or inactions, of himself and his classmates, ultimately lead to Baker's demise. It cuts deep, guys —really deep.
Spine or back injuries can lead to chronic pain, which in turn may cause feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. If you are experiencing pain for years on end, those feelings of hopelessness can turn dark really fast. Plus, pain medications can have major effects on your mood and impulse control. People with chronic illnesses such as back pain are already at an increased risk for depression and left unchecked or unspoken about can lead to suicidal ideation or even suicide.
Here we will examine 13 more reasons why people with chronic pain turn to suicide. We're going from hopeless to hopeful in 13 words because even letters strung together can impact others around us — more so than we may realize.
Hopeless. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from even our smallest actions.
Grief. But more times than not, we can't know better until knowing better is useless.
Bruised. The fact remains, no one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. And when that happens, it's normally too late.
Depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide remains the 9th leading cause of death in the U.S. At the same time, 100 million American adults have some form of chronic pain. And did you know that there are 41,149 suicides every year in our nation, per research from the National Center for Health Statistics? If you don't, now you do but there's more.
Although this is not proven fact per se, a CDC spokeswoman says, “This would suggest that perhaps as many 20,000 or more Americans a year with chronic pain kill themselves.”
Hopeless. Cancer and heart disease were considered the largest killer of mortality decline in our time yet recently, those were offset by detrimental rises in drug overdoses and suicides. But why?
Where's the Link?
Two Princeton Economists, Anne Case, and Angus Deaton reveal, "The epidemic of pain, which the opioids were designed to treat, is real enough," the researchers write. “However, the data cannot establish which came first — pain or painkillers?”
It's clear that if you live with prolonged chronic pain, your quality of life will begin to deteriorate. Seventy-seven percent of people report feeling depressed from their chronic pain. And, 51 percent of chronic pain patients feel they have little or no control over their pain.
Doubt. Case goes further, “The prescription of opioids for chronic pain added fuel to the flames, making the epidemic much worse than it otherwise would have been.”
Pair that with the dependence of addictive painkillers and the toll that it takes not only on our insides but inside our minds as well. And, only 23 percent of patients find opioids effective yet more than 650,000 prescriptions are dispensed a day (a day people).
Insanity. Now, the prevalence of pain may have been even higher without the drugs, although it's clear that long-term opioid use can exacerbate pain by itself. Long-term effects include abdominal distention, constipation, bloating, liver damage (especially prevalent in abuse of drugs that combine opiates with acetaminophen), brain damage due to hypoxia — resulting from respiratory depression, physical dependence, weakened immune system, sedation, and coma.
Sick. Overdoseday.com says that the United States alone accounts for approximately one-quarter of the estimated number of drug-related deaths worldwide. Mostly driven by opioids, overdose deaths in the U.S. has nearly tripled during the period of 1999-2015, from 16,849 to 52,404 annually and only continues to rise
While this boisterous epidemic accumulates just as many headlines across the country as there are deaths, another quiet crisis lingers. And, you guessed it —chronic pain, which isn't something widely spoken about yet it's proven so many of us bear this burden. We can sit here and try and place blame but that is also useless.
Setting Up the Solution
The grim circumstances that are chronic pain and the inherent connection with suicide are unlikely to reverse unless our federal government takes drastic action — beginning with the acknowledgment that chronic pain is real. We need to take this seriously.
Trying. Did you know that the U.S. government spends over $2,562 on research for every soul with HIV/AIDS but they only spend $4 for every person with chronic pain?
Clearly, chronic pain needs a lot more attention. We need financing for research and clinical trials. We need affordable opioid alternatives for pain management. Ironically, this chronic pain we're talking about is literally the number one reason U.S. citizens need disability.
“If our overall account is correct, the epidemic will not be easily or quickly reversed by policy,” Deaton and Case affirm. “This does not mean that nothing can be done. Controlling opioids is an obvious priority.”
Finding the Solution
Yes, doctors sustain some accountability for their readiness to over prescribe these pills, particularly when no one knows how to cure addiction and no one knows how certain people will react to certain medications. We need to start there though.
If doctors limit their prescribing practices, the 650,000 prescriptions dispensed daily could be cut in half. If a "domino effect" is created, the number of people consuming these drugs should also decline. Eventually, the overdoses will too. And, ultimately pain patients won't become so depressed that they act impetuously and commit suicide.
Stay. There are also intelligent questions concerning the FDA approval system that authorizes a class of drugs that have killed nearly 200,000 people. It's also equally important to notate that the central recipients of opioids are not the ones addicted, but rather the pharmaceutical companies a.k.a. Big Pharma — Purdue Pharmaceutical, who profited $31 billion from sales of OxyContin in 2016 alone.
Heal. And lastly, it's on us. We need to vigilantly seek guidance anyway we know how to. Whether it's confiding in a confident about your mental health, seeing a therapist or joining a support group. It's about not holding anything in while letting things we can't control go. It's about asking for help when we need it and not feeling ashamed. It's about trying to find other ways to manage our pain. It's about going through the dreaded withdrawals. It includes being sick and tired of being sick and tired and then finally recovering because you will overcome this. Don't make a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
And if you don't think you can — if you think it's impossible, make a call.
Live. Dial 1-800-273-8255 and connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is a public network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
After all, suicide doesn't take away the pain, it just gives it to someone else.