Overcoming what some researchers are calling “mental defeat” is viewed as a means to help someone with chronic pain regain control over their life.
Experts say the relatively new concept of mental defeat has previously been associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Researchers define mental defeat as a state in which someone with chronic pain views it as an “enemy” which takes over his or her life, eroding autonomy and identity.
In the new study, researchers followed three groups of individuals living in Hong Kong — people with chronic pain who had sought specialist treatment, people with chronic pain who did not require specialist treatment and people with acute pain.
The chronic pain individuals reported pain in a variety of sites, with the majority in both groups identifying back pain as their predominant complaint.
Researchers monitored levels of mental defeat through how much the participants agreed with statements such as “because of the pain I felt destroyed as a person” and “I felt humiliated and that I was losing my sense of “inner dignity.”
When the two groups of individuals with chronic pain were compared, those who were seeking specialist treatment for their pain were found to have higher levels of mental defeat than those who did not require such treatment.
Both chronic pain groups had higher levels of mental defeat than the acute pain group.
The study also found that people who had a sense of mental defeat because of pain also reported higher levels of depression and anxiety as well as a higher incidence of the pain interfering with their daily lives.
The findings of the Hong Kong study reflect earlier studies carried out in the United Kingdom, which suggests that mental defeat is common across cultures.
The study’s lead author, Nicole Tang, Ph.D., said: “The presence of mental defeat in both Western and Eastern populations suggests that aspects of the psychological impact of pain on people’s sense of self and identity are shared across geographical boundaries.
“We know from work in the UK that mental defeat is a significant factor differentiating chronic patients who thrive despite pain from those who develop high levels of distress, depression and interference from pain in their everyday lives.”
Tang said the study results suggest that early screening for mental defeat can predict whether a patient will go on to suffer from severe anxiety and depression.”
“Standard group pain management programs do not have a treatment component targeting the sense of mental defeat,” she said. “The current development of multidisciplinary pain management services in Hong Kong presents an opportunity to address this gap with a view towards enhancing overall treatment effectiveness.”
The study is published in The Clinical Journal of Pain.
Source: University of Warwick