We have recently seen a whole spate of Royal Commission’s into a range of systemic failures, from banking to aged care and mental health, and now finally there is an Inquiry into one of the most neglected cohorts in our communities, those who experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation due to their disability.
Just this month, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a significant report which showed that 47 per cent of people living with disabilities experienced violence in 2017-18, compared to 36 per cent of those living without. Concerningly, 32% of adults with disability experience high/very high psychological distress, compared with 8% without disability.
We have known for some time that chronic pain pervades all levels of our society. Conditions like low back pain are the leading cause of disability in Australia and musculoskeletal conditions are responsible for close to 10% of the total burden of disease. Our recent report prepared by Deloitte Access Economics on the Cost of Pain, shows that chronic pain was associated with 340,384 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) in Australia in 2018, which, represents a cost of $66.1 billion. Chronic pain was estimated to be associated with 6.8% of the total burden of disease and 6.5% of total health system expenditure.
Behind these enormous numbers are countless stories and faces of millions of people living in pain. Time and time again we hear of how chronic pain has fundamentally changed the life trajectory of a young Australian, or imposed disability on a previously healthy older Australian. Perhaps most unfortunate of all is the fact that despite the high prevalence, people living with chronic pain are not recognised as living with a disability. Their ‘invisible’ condition is often ignored, leaving them misbelieved, stigmatised, isolated and discriminated. It also leaves them without fundamental financial support at a time when they most need it.
The subjective and ongoing nature of pain leads to a wide degree of variation in observed pain intensity, pain persistence, and pain‑related disability as well as earlier onset among those who experience pain. This non-specificity is what our rigid support systems find almost impossible to comprehend. Instead of a supportive social security net that adapts to their unique needs, people living with chronic pain find themselves falling between the cracks of our myriad systems.
Recent months have seen many stories that highlight the way our health, disability and social service systems have failed people living with chronic pain. From people with osteoarthritis that leaves them without mobility to someone living with chronic pain 24/7, the casual dismissal of lived experience and the denial of disability support to people with chronic pain at its best leaves them financially disadvantaged and at its worst equates to neglect of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Painaustralia will be providing a submission to the Royal Commission to shine a light on the scale and systemic nature of the abuse faced by people living with chronic pain, in the hope that we can make a difference. Please share your experience of chronic pain and related disability with us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org by 11 October 2019.