Depression is one of the most common problems experienced by people with chronic (long-lasting) pain. In fact, the majority of people who suffer chronic pain will have depression at some point. Depression can have a big effect on a person’s quality of life, making it difficult for the person to sleep, perform at work, do household chores, etc.

If the symptoms of depression are related to pain or the side effects of medicine, doctors can make adjustments in medications to relieve these symptoms. If the depression is a separate problem, it can be treated on its own.

How is depression treated?

Many people with depression can be treated successfully with psychotherapy, medicine (antidepressants), or a combination of both.


Psychotherapy refers to a variety of techniques used to treat depression. Psychotherapy involves talking to a licensed professional who helps the depressed person:

  • focus on the behaviors, emotions, and ideas that contribute to depression;
  • understand and identify the life problems or events--such as a major illness, a death in the family, a loss of a job, or a divorce--that contribute to depression;
  • help the person understand which aspects of those problems he or she may be able to solve or improve; and,
  • regain a sense of control and pleasure in life.


Many antidepressant medicines are available to treat depression. These drugs work by changing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, which are responsible for transferring messages between brain cells. Some antidepressants include:

  • citalopram (Celexa)
  • fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • sertraline (Zoloft)
  • amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • desipramine (Norpramin)
  • venlafaxine (Effexor)
  • nefazodone (Serzone)
  • bupropion (Wellbutrin)
  • duloxetine (Cymbalta)

In addition to being a primary treatment for depression, antidepressants can help treat many chronic pain syndromes, such as neuropathic (nerve-related) disorders. Treatment with antidepressant drugs can start to work within a few weeks.

Other treatment methods

Regular exercise, including aerobic exercise, can provide a double benefit by relieving pain and helping improve your mood. Check with your doctor before you start an exercise program. It may also help to look into “alternative” therapies, including relaxation training, biofeedback, and guided imagery.

Early diagnosis and treatment for depression can reduce suffering, as well as the risk of complications and suicide. People who get treatment for depression that occurs at the same time as chronic pain often have an improvement in their overall medical condition, a better quality of life, and are better able to stick to their treatment plans.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/24/2014.


  • National Institute of Mental Health. Depression and Chronic Pain Accessed 11/18/2014.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Chronic Pain Accessed 11/18/2014.
  • American Chiropractic Association. Chronic Pain and Depression. Accessed 11/18/2014.

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