Chronic Pain and Mental Health Disorders: Shared Neural Mechanisms, Epidemiology, and Treatment

Mayo Clin Proc. 2016 Jul;91(7):955-70. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.04.029. Epub 2016 Jun 22.


Chronic pain and mental health disorders are common in the general population, and epidemiological studies suggest that a bidirectional relationship exists between these 2 conditions. The observations from functional imaging studies suggest that this bidirectional relationship is due in part to shared neural mechanisms. In addition to depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, individuals with chronic pain are at risk of other mental health problems including suicide and cigarette smoking and many have sustained sexual violence. Within the broader biopsychosocial model of pain, the fear-avoidance model explains how behavioral factors affect the temporal course of chronic pain and provides the framework for an array of efficacious behavioral interventions including cognitive-behavioral therapy, acceptance-based therapies, and multidisciplinary pain rehabilitation. Concomitant pain and mental health disorders often complicate pharmacological management, but several drug classes, including serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, and anticonvulsants, have efficacy for both conditions and should be considered first-line treatment agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Behavior Therapy / trends
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Neuralgia / epidemiology*
  • Neuralgia / physiopathology
  • Neuralgia / therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Psychotropic Drugs