Experts Say Chronic Pain Patients at Higher Risk of Suicide

Experts Say Chronic Pain Patients at Higher Risk of Suicide

The words are chilling, eye-opening, and often a plea for help from people in pain:

“My next option is suicide. I have no doubts if they don’t find an effective treatment soon I will get to the point where I won’t be able to take it anymore.”

“I have considered ending my life. If I get to a place where my pain cannot be treated and I cannot take care of myself I will euthanize myself.”

“I, too, think about it every single day. The pain I would leave my family with is the only thing that keeps me from doing it.”

“No relief is coming until you are dead.”

Dick Trickle

Dick Trickle

These are some of the comments left by readers to our story about the suicide of Dick Trickle, the retired NASCAR driver who took his life last week.  According to his brother, Trickle had severe chronic pain under his left breast from an undisclosed condition.

“He must have just decided the pain was too high, because he would have never done it for any other reason,” Chuck Trickle told ESPN.

Sadly, suicide is an all too common thought for people with chronic pain. According to one survey, 50% of chronic pain patients have had serious thoughts of committing suicide due to their pain. Many suffer from depression or other risk factors associated with suicide, including substance abuse, loss of work, financial problems and social isolation.

“All of these things individually are risk factors for suicide and I think when someone has chronic pain they sort of all come together. That heightens the risk,” said Gillian Murphy, PhD, Director of Standards, Training and Practices at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“They may not even be engaged in any treatment or seeing anyone for behavioral health, therapy or counseling, which can itself be a problem,” Murphy says, adding that it’s important for family physicians — not just psychiatrists — to recognize the risk factors for suicide and to ask their patients if they have any thoughts about harming themselves.

“What we do know about suicide risk is that people are very reluctant to talk about it initially, but can feel very relieved if someone just asks them ‘Are you thinking of harming yourself?’ It almost feels like a weight off their shoulders that they can get the opportunity to express it and talk more about it.”

“We can’t stress enough the need for people to ask directly, and not in a roundabout way, if someone is having these thoughts,” Murphy told National Pain Report. “I think that within the general medical community they’re not attuned to doing that and they’re not so comfortable doing it. We recommend that primary physicians ask about and recognize suicide risk, and for this group in particular (chronic pain patients), because they are a high risk group.”

Friends, family and caretakers can help too by being alert for possible warning signs of suicide, such as depression, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, mood swings, and if someone becomes withdrawn.

suicideprevention1The biggest red flag of all, according to Murphy, is someone who openly talks about killing themselves.

“A lot of people think if they really wanted to do it they wouldn’t tell me, you know they would just go and do it. That’s not exactly true,” she said. “Many people will make a lot of statements about ‘I can’t go on’ or ‘This is too much for me.’ They’re just reaching out for someone to ask them the question. You really have to take it seriously if someone you know ever mentions thinking about wanting to die.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with about 34,000 people killing themselves each year.  A recent study found that firearms remain the leading mechanism for suicide, but researchers also noted an increase in the number of intentional overdoses associated with prescription opioid painkillers.

If you or a loved one are in emotional distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has counselors available 24 hours day, seven days a week, at 800-273-TALK (8255). You are not alone. Help and hope are available.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor

There are 11 comments for this article
  1. Amber Rose Dullea at 1:14 pm

    I have lived with chronic pain for a decade. I now have more good days than bad days in terms of pain but there were times that I had lost hope, had my meds taken away, and just couldn’t see the light.

    In terms of suicide–I tried when I was in high school. The reaction I got from my father when he found out cut through to me that I was not separate and that killing myself was not an option. This knowing has kept me going but I still had times when I thought about it. I can only imagine how easily someone who didn’t have that wake up call could do it or attempt it. Even now that my parents have both passed away, I still do not see it as an option.

    I believe in hope. I believe in now as a moment that I can deeply experience even in pain with a sense of wonder. It is not easy and it takes awareness and mindfulness and living in the present. When I am able to do that, I find the black hole abates. Support is essential!

  2. Laura at 1:26 pm

    Imagine what pain patients go through when the DEA arrests their doctors! We can’t fill our pain medication any earlier than one day early, and it has to be a hand written prescription that we take to the pharmacy. When the DEA arrests doctors, the patients are literally screwed! Now they will go into a horrible withdrawal in 24 hours that lasts at least a week, and they have to deal with the pain that they take the pain medications for in the first place! What are they supposed to do? What options do they have? Withdrawal from a schedule 2 narcotic is living hell in itself. This is so inhumane, I can’t believe that it is legal for the DEA to do this to people. Doctors are too afraid to take on these patients to help them out for fear of the DEA. The DEA persecutes pain patients like Hitler persecuted jews!

  3. Laura at 1:17 pm

    This has been going on for years. These thoughts are common thoughts among pain patients. For a lot of us, suicide is the only option the DEA has left us. For some of us, we had to start going to a methadone clinic for pain medication. Pain doctors are not allowed to treat “addicts” so how is a legitimate pain patient supposed to get help? You don’t, that’s just it, you just live with it until you can’t anymore. I have the scar on my wrist from when I was contemplating suicide, but a methadone clinic saved my life. Luckily, I found a doctor that was willing to take me as a patient even though I had been going to a methadone clinic for pain medication. The DEA has been given too much power, how many more people have to die? How many people have died so far? My friend killed herself 3 years ago. She kept getting turned away by doctors and emergency rooms. She lived a living hell everyday until she took a bottle of pills and ended it.

  4. E11 at 7:36 am

    I imagine for some, suicide pops into the head, like me, years ago, thinking how on earth can I live with this condition, for the rest of my life, but mainly the obstacles keep that idea there: Continued access to medications are always part of that equation. Continue access to a specialist to treat your specific condition (there just doesn’t seem enough specialist these days to understand the wide array of freak of nature medical conditions that ravage the human body). Continued access to insurance or a means of paying for your own medical needs. And all of these are also HUGE burden it places on a family and finances. And then the feeling like you are always letting everyone down etc.

    There are so many aspects to not only survive living with a painful condition, but to actually LIVE that life; Guess the definition of living is really the question? I always try to remind myself of those that not only have pain, but have such physical limitations, being in wheelchair, paralyzed etc, depending on someone helping you every single day for rest of life, helping with personal hygiene etc. Chronic pain patients need support from their community, not disdain for us surviving.

  5. Hope and a Prayer at 9:08 pm

    I heartily agree with all the comments made here. I am truly very sad for the loss of this upstanding man and his family.
    Here is the problem….law makers and etc. making life alterning decisions for chronic pain patients and not knowing a thing about it! One must walk in ones shoes before understanding chronic pain.
    No one asks for this condition! It is life changing. Activites, work, social life, getting out of bed, duties around the house, taking care of family…when one has chronic pain there isnt a single issue that is the same as it once was. To be treated for it and to actually have a chance to have some of these things back is miraculous. Medicine does miracles when taken responsibly and correctly and under doctor supervision.
    Nothing takes all the pain for anyone, but if you suffer for a while and then are given something to help you that finally works after you have exhausted every other treatment, your depression is lifted greatly!
    All you want is a quality of life again and you find it. You feel like you can be a part of society again and engage with your family and have all of these other things you had lost back! You learn to adjust yourself and activities and are on your way to starting your life over again. That is how much of a difference prescription medicines make for people that are truly in need of them. Then when lawmakers make it near inmpossible to get or not at all, it is nothing but inhumane and cruel. True legitimate chronic pain patients even on disability are being denied or turned away from treatments that they have responsibly taken for years!! People that are upstanding citizens, people with clean records, law abiding people that have never done anything wrong. This is all due to addicts getting medicine they should have never got…abusing it and taking it with other drugs and alcohol. There have been damages and deaths, there is no dispute there, but pain mills should have been shut down sooner than they were, this was allowed to go on too long. The results of getting rid of unscrupulous doctors and pain mills has also resulted in residual damage for legitmate, law abiding citizens that only want to have a quality of life they are entitled to have, just like everyone else. Things went too far in the efforts to clean up and now some balance desperately needs to be put in place. There will always be addicts, law makers must understand that by completely removing access to medicines in society they are hurting innocent people in their attempts to prevent addicts obtaining medicines. I dont want addicts obtaining medicine either and fully agree something had to be done!! However, addicts are addicts…when you remove one thing, they will only move on to the next. And respectively, addicts choose to do what they do, when is personal responsibiity going to be held? Chronic pain patients do not have a choice…there is no choice to get sick and stay sick, it just is. I am sad for every parent or loved one out there that may have lost an addict to medicine, but some understanding needs to take place for law abiding people that are still here trying to live their life. I expect to see many suicides if things do not change!! This is extremely sad, it is unnessesary, all that needs to happen is for law makers to now step back out of our health care and let patients and doctors make thier decisions and choices respectively. The pharmacies and doctors are scared to treat patients now at all in many cases and its a true crime and an unjustice to all involved. When law makers stepped in to clean up pill mills, we were happy!!! But we were all told also that legitmate patients would NOT be affected and are still acting like they are not! But this is not true!! If you are in doubt, do some research on the internet. There are more and more stories of people that cant get medicine anymore that they used to have…clean, upstanding people with no addictions or crimes. There are plenty out there and numbers are rising. This must stop. It breaks my heart to see suicides…there are always going to be some that choose this and it is very sad, but from what I am seeing going on, I expect to see more and it just doesnt have to be.

  6. Margo Tuttle at 6:50 pm

    Agree with everything stated!!!! Don’t punish the sick for the acts if criminals. They will still get and sell narcotics, there will still be addicts but I will be left to suffer unbearable pain while I wait to die. I am so very, very scared! Does anybody hear us?

  7. Carole Thompson at 6:41 pm

    The biggest reasons that chronic intractable pain patients *think* about suicide are:
    1) Lack of finding a doctor within a reasonable distance
    2) Lack of diagnosis & therefore not being believed
    3) Being under-medicated
    4) Not being able to fill a prescription easily & effortlessly, if at all.
    5) Lack of Insurance &/or high cost of medication and Dr.
    Read between those *lines* & there are so many hurdles that patients must jump that it gets very tiresome & wears out the psyche, soul & body.
    Suicide is on the ‘radar’ now because of the difficulties listed above.
    It’s really quite simple, remove those hurdles & suicide rates will drop.

  8. Karin Aubrey at 5:46 pm

    This is an issue that hits too close to home, and i know that MOST people DO NOT understand what we go thru. If pain is an issue everyday of the week and the only relief has been to be treated with narcotic pain medications after failure of everything else, then it should NEVER be an issue to be able to fill these prescriptions! MOST of us with chronic pain have tried every single medication that is out there for this pain…from the simple SSRI’s to the more complicated Lyrica and Cymablta! they simply do NOT work in EVERY case! I wish everyday that they did work for me. I went thru them all and my doctor at that time was adamant about how they were to be taken. I am one of the unfortunates that has found nothing effective. So, here i am…taking opioids every day for my pain and stressing out every month when i see my doctor and try to get my meds filled. Why should we have to go thru this? It isn’t fair and it certainly is not right! ON ANY LEVEL! this medication is life saving in that it enables us to tolerate the pain enough to function and NOT be suicidal on a daily basis! The average person does not understand that the meds we take do NOT make us high, they do NOT give us a buzz…they simply relieve the pain enough for us to function! None of them relieve the pain 100% either. So to take even one of our meds away or even one dosage can mean the difference between getting out of bed in the morning or doing nothing but chasing the pain all day!

  9. Mark S. Barletta at 5:20 pm

    I watched Dick Trickle race Nascar for 15 years now and cant believe he took his life because of not being able to find pain relief. This thing about people in chronic pain taking their life because of not being able to find help for their chronic pain needs to come to a end. It seems law enforcement has found their way in to the medical community and they put fear in to doctors that treat chronic pain. How is it law enforcement has found their way in to the medical community. How can they interrupt the treatment of chronic pain and put fear in to doctors along with pharmacist. This is a form of terrorism to install fear in to people.
    I hope all of you in law enforcement would please leave our Pain Specialist alone so they can treat those that suffer from chronic pain with whatever medication they see fit . It sickens me to think that America is the Land of the Free, but pain patients are not free of the chronic pain that confines them to their homes.

    If you suffer from chronic pain and cant find pain relief and are thinking about harming yourself please call
    1-800-273-8255.

  10. Donna Ratliff at 5:07 pm

    I think that if most pain patients didn’t have the added the stress of worrying about having access to their medications, that would be one BIG relief! Am I right folks? No one should have to worry if they will be able to fill their prescribed medications. I think that some people may be taking some words the wrong way here. Most patients can continue to work or function close as normal so they can take care of their families if the pain is controlled. When the pharmacists and doctors are afraid of the DEA, this is causing the huge problems that people just don’t shouldn’t need to worry about. People should have choices here. Not just one choice because somebody else thinks they know what’s better for you.
    Yes, I’m sure there is certain pain patients that would think of suicide because of the reasons listed above in the article but life would be a hell of lot easier if the patient could just have access to the care and medications they need to live close to a normal life as possible. If you don’t have chronic pain everyday. You just don’t understand the stress and anxiety that is being put on these patients. Medications do work to relieve pain. They are not EVIL and do have a place in this society. Some people are just getting in the way of this care and access and this needs to stop now. Only a patients knows what is best and works for them. They shouldn’t be judged. In fact, before these problems came up the past few years, they were living a better life and didn’t think about suicide, this is the difference here.

  11. NOTSONUTSO. at 4:30 pm

    Yes. Every day I wish I was dead. Made half-hearted attempt last year. I know I need stronger anti-depressant & some counseling.