September marks Pain Awareness Month hosted by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). The aim of this month is to encourage conversations between health professionals, people living with pain, policy makers and employers, about how pain and the stigma surrounding living with pain can affect people’s ability to work and impact their capacity to contribute to and participate in the broader community.
Chronic pain affects 3.4 million Australians. Pain should be a key health priority, not just during Pain Week or Pain Awareness Month. Chronic pain needs to become a permanent fixture on the national health agenda.
Greater understanding of what living with pain means is critical to improving the lives of those living with pain, their families, and carers and improving our responses to them.
Making pain visible and directing resources to where they are most needed requires constant effort. This kind of change does not come about through just campaigning once a year. Yearly events like Pain Awareness Month and Pain Week are examples of just some of the actions that, combined with consistent efforts all year round, can make a difference. Painaustralia strives to achieve change in a number of ways:
supporting or undertaking research;
brokering quality information to decision makers and consumers about best practice approaches;
publicly advocating for better responses; and
highlighting the impact on those living with chronic pain based on lived experience of consumers.
One of the key challenges is to ensure that the issues faced by people living with chronic pain are translated into practical and achievable policy ‘solutions’ that decision makers and funders can support.
Painaustralia is able to do this work because we have many people who support us by sharing their stories. People living with pain commonly report their difficulties in explaining their experience. How do you explain your pain and what it means? Often health professionals themselves fail to fully understand that pain is a condition in its own right and not always a symptom of some other ailment.
It is by telling the stories of pain journeys, the struggle to find appropriate treatment in a health system that divides patients up into categories of disease through body part diagnosis, that people living with pain are able to challenge medical myopia and increase understanding.
Changing common beliefs about pain and its treatment is fundamental to achieving better outcomes for people living with chronic pain.
It is by raising awareness of the way chronic pain impacts people that Painaustralia is able to reduce stigma and ensure the community and health professionals better understand pain in all its forms.
Listening to and understanding the stories of people with pain makes a big difference. Being able to then translate those stories into practical and achievable policy that makes a difference is the key to changing the way we respond to pain.
While Australia has a long way to go to achieve best practice in pain management and build awareness of the impact of pain, we acknowledge there are many people working in the pain sector and beyond who are striving to make things better for those living with chronic pain. These are the just some of the people who have listened.
We also acknowledge the many carers, families, and supporters of those with pain conditions.
Most importantly we acknowledge people living with pain and thank them for sharing their stories. They are the change agents we need, the collective foundation of a movement that will improve the lives of millions of Australians.
Pain Awareness Month is an important time for the stories and experiences of people living with chronic pain to be acknowledged, for our policy leaders to recognise pain as a health priority.
People who live with chronic pain can and should be supported to live quality lives in a community where they feel accepted and valued. Unfortunately, this is not the experience of millions of Australians.
It is the voices of people living with pain we most need to hear and listen to, now and well beyond Pain Awareness Month. Anything less will mean we all lose.