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Living with both mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain – some early insights

Last month the Q Lab launched its second project in partnership with Mind, focusing on how care can be designed to best meet the health and well-being needs of people living with both mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain.

For the next 3-4 months, we will be investing time and energy into working with Q members, local Minds and Lab participants to understand the topic from a range of perspectives, drawing on data, evidence and experience (this will be called the ‘research and discovery’ phase). The purpose of this work is to generate learning and insights about the topic that we hope will be helpful to people working in this area. We also hope it will act as a springboard, supporting those involved in the Lab to identify promising opportunities to test improvements in practice over the coming months.

To get started, when the topic was announced we asked people to share – via a short survey – examples of initiatives already underway to support people with mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain. The survey also asked people if they had personal experiences of the issue that they’d be willing to share.

Living with mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain

We’re delighted that over 130 people have shared their insights with us.

What’s really blown us away has been the breadth of people’s experiences of this issue. Here are just a couple of examples that we thought would be interesting to share.

“I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since my mid-twenties but was only formally diagnosed at the end of my thirties. The back and neck pain (mainly the latter) has happened over the last five years and I’m sure they are related to my mental health as when I’m doing OK I suffer less with pain.”

“My partner has a long-standing degenerative back issue (caused by childbirth) as well as suffering from Bi-Polar. After several years of various primary and acute care treatments/pain management groups there has been little progress apart from the mental handling of the pain.”

Over half of the respondents (58%) had lived experience, including as a carer. Of those people, 22% of people live with either mental health problems or persistent back and neck pain, but the majority (58%) live with both. Although it is only a relatively small sample size, these numbers shed light on the likelihood of people living with a co-existing diagnosis.

There were also some interesting reflections on the care that people have received, and the success or failure of interventions targeted at improving these conditions.

“Following two car accidents, the first just over 2 years ago and the last 14 months ago – both non fault – I have been left with neck back and shoulder pain, as well as numbness to my hands and forearm. I have received physiotherapy and am receiving CBT as a separate service, and I also attend a community pain clinic where we are trying to manage symptoms. This is difficult as I work full time to support my family as well as being a full time carer to my partner.”

“I have developed neck and upper back pain; worsened migraines and headaches; tinnitus, and worsened anxiety since the birth of my son. Labour and delivery was lengthy and traumatic, with a long period of mental and physical ill health afterwards. I notice if I am anxious my physical symptoms are much worse, and vice versa. Only one massage therapist and one physiotherapist have ever commented on the possible interconnectedness of my symptoms. Other health professionals have treated me as a collection of faulty systems rather than as a whole.”

Example of existing initiatives

The survey surfaced some examples of current initiatives working to improve care for people with mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain:

The research continues

The survey is one of a number of activities that the Lab will be undertaking over the next few months to build a rounded understanding of the topic. Working with Lab participants, we will continue to look at current research, data and evidence alongside other information that will be collected through interviews, ethnography or site visits. Lab participants, the Q Community and local Minds will play a key role in making sense of the findings and identifying opportunity areas to then develop and test ideas.

The survey is still open – please do share with your colleagues, friends and family – it only takes 10 minutes to complete.

Complete the survey

The Lab team will continue to share findings as we go, so continue to look out for blogs on the Q website, updates via Q-municate and Twitter. You can also connect with others interested in this topic via the dedicated online group.

Join the online group

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