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Research from Norway finds that young people who are struggling with certain mental health conditions often experience chronic pain at the same time. The research highlights the need for increased mind and body treatment planning for adolescents.

The study was guided by Professor Marit Saebo Indredavik from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Indredavik and her team interviewed 566 adolescents. All of the youth were part of a more extensive Norwegian health study which ran from 2009-2011.

Participants in the study were dealing with depression, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety or certain autism spectrum disorders. Each of the young people were asked:

  • Do you have any physical pain?
  • If you do have pain, where is it? What does the pain feel like?

An alarming number of the participants, 70 percent, said they experienced chronic pain, most often identified as musculoskeletal pain. Depressed youth reported even higher percentages, with 80 percent of surveyed adolescents saying they had frequent pain.

Comorbid pain was most prevalent among adolescents with either anxiety or depression. This is likely because those are conditions characterized by a high degree of focus on personal problems. It was also discovered that more females than males were living with chronic pain, irrespective of their mental health diagnosis.

All of the mental health conditions suggested lower quality of life, and chronic pain would reduce that even further. In the case of depression, experts suggest depression may magnify the pain a person feels. In addition, feeling persistent pain can make it hard for a person to sleep. And dragging around through the day makes it harder to take part in normal activities or to enjoy things that would normally bring pleasure. These are problems already present with depression, and chronic pain intensifies them.

Regardless of what mental health issue a young person is facing the study makes it clear that healthcare providers need to be asking about physical pain as well – both mental illness and pain should be addressed together.

Dr. Indredavik and her colleagues emphasize the importance of discovering these problems early on before they’re carried into adulthood. Medical doctors, clinicians, psychologists and physical therapists can work together because young people are hurting inside and out.

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