Millions of people in Australia live with chronic and persistent pain, 3.24 million to be precise. Yet the common perception in our communities remains that chronic pain is associated with ageing, and as such, a health issue that concerns older people.
While the numbers of people living with persistent pain as they age are staggering, the real impact of pain in undoubtedly felt across the spectrum of all age categories. A new report developed for Painaustralia by Deloitte Access Economics reveals that over 68% of people living with chronic or persistent pain are in the working age bracket, that is between the ages of 15 to 64.
This new data underscores that chronic and persistent pain isn’t limited to the confines of a particular age bracket. The impact spills much further and permeates nearly every age group. While the direct health related costs of chronic pain exceed $12 billion, the true cost, which takes into account lost productivity and loss of quality of life is a staggering $139 billion.
If we unpack these numbers, its not hard to see why the impact is so devastating. Chronic pain can have a debilitating effect on a person’s mood, physical functioning, and social relationships. People living with chronic pain can also experience depression, sleep disturbance and fatigue. Its not hard to see why someone of working age who also lives with chronic pain can find continuing employment together with family and other commitments so overwhelming. Chronic pain can be an extremely isolating and stigmatising condition, especially as it is invisible to an observer’s eye.
The findings of this report are an important step forward in improving our knowledge about pain in Australia. Having a better understanding of the way chronic pain impacts our communities enables us to better meet the challenges, the unmet need, and the lives that are being diminished by a lack of appropriate healthcare and policy responses to pain.
This is why the first goal of the new National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management launched last week is to ensure that pain is recognised as a national and public health priority. Until we acknowledge the experiences of people living with pain, we cannot hope to improve their lives or help reduce the unacceptable economic social and health burden created through inadequate responses to chronic pain.