Sheila Rauch, PhD: PTSD, Chronic Pain, and Suicide—Reach Out for Help and Hope

Experiencing PTSD and chronic pain simultaneously can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts. But with guidance from family and friends to find the right resources and professionals, people can access highly effective combined treatments that help them return to a full life—physically and emotionally.

Sheila Rauch, PhD is the deputy director of the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program.

For information about treatments for PTSD visit The Treatment Hub.

I would like for anyone who is experiencing symptoms that they feel like are interfering with their life and interfering with them being able to do the things that they want to do, I think you should talk to a mental health professional. Seeking help is important. The other thing to notice about the PTSD physical pain comorbidity is we know from lots of research that that combination puts people at an especially high risk of feeling hopeless and helpless and potentially experiencing suicidal ideation or even acting with suicidal behaviors. So, that’s another reason why we really want to make sure we’re paying attention to that comorbidity and addressing how those two issues can feed each other with combined treatments that actually are quite consistent with PTSD and chronic pain that we can treat both and get really excellent outcomes and reduce PTSD pain and even risk for suicide. If you’re suffering with PTSD, the first place that I would suggest looking is our Emory Healthcare Veterans Program: Calling us or calling WWP if you’re a post-9/11 service member. If you’re not, going to your local mental health service providers is probably the first step. In addition, though, we do have lots of people that we will connect with other resources if they’re not appropriate for what we offer. But really, contacting a mental health provider is the best thing you can do if you’re suffering with PTSD, and you decide that you do want to get help. One of the most common referral sources for mental health is a family member. Oftentimes people will say that I’ve been suffering with PTSD for 10 years or 12 years, but I finally came in for help because my spouse said that I needed to do this. It may be to the point that my spouse said “If you don’t get help, I’m leaving”, which sometimes is how they end up seeking care, but other times it’s earlier than that and they take the word of their wife when their wife says you’re thrashing around at night, you’re angry with us all the time, please talk to someone, please get some help. So, one thing family members can do is help people know where the resources are. So, just telling someone you need help is probably not the best thing to do. But telling someone maybe “Check this place out, I went on their website and the descriptions of the patients that they had suggested maybe there’s something that they can offer you.” Those types of not pushing too hard, but letting people know that there are resources out there and that treatments work, treatments for PTSD work, treatments for PTSD combined with pain can also be very effective. Knowing that you’re there to support them and help them and also potentially lead them in a direction towards some good care is probably the best thing a family member can do. BrainLine is powered in part by Wounded Warrior Project to honor and empower post-9/11 injured service members, veterans, and their families.

Posted on BrainLine September 23, 2021. Reviewed September 23, 2021.

About the author: Sheila A.M. Rauch, PhD, ABPP

Sheila A.M. Rauch, PhD, ABPP, is the Deputy Director of the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program and Director of Mental Health Research and Program Evaluation at the VA Atlanta Healthcare System. Dr. Rauch has been developing programs, conducting research and providing PTSD and Anxiety Disorders treatment for over 20 years. Her research focuses on examination of mechanisms involved in the development and treatment of PTSD and improving access to effective interventions.

Professional headshot of Dr. Sheila Rauch smiling at the camera, wearing glasses in a royal blue top