Nearly everyone has experienced or encountered someone who has experienced a mental health issue. These issues can manifest anywhere from suicidal thoughts to excessive alcoholism, depression, drug dependence, or a combination of many of these afflictions and more. In the United States, about one in every five adults battles a mental illness each and every day—that’s about 47 million adults daily. A significant portion of these adults is composed of the U.S. veteran population. In 2018 alone, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that “1.7 million U.S. veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program”. Many of these veterans first experience manifestations of chronic pain, which then give rise to or exacerbate their mental illnesses. Traditionally, pharmacological treatments are used to combat chronic pain as well as other symptoms, but in light of new statistics, these drug treatments may risk increasing drug misuse and additional adverse effects, as is the case with opioid overuse, alcohol addiction, suicidal ideation, etc.
However, in a recent publication of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, nonpharmacological treatments (NPTs), such as “acupuncture, exercise therapy, osteopathic spinal manipulation, etc.”, were tracked within all chronic pain treatments for around 140,000 U.S. Army service members with surprising results. The NPTs’ effects were compared to that of the service members treated pharmaceutically to discover that the use of NPTs actually had an overall decrease in adverse effects. While the study notes that the long-term effects of the NPTs could not yet be determined, the preliminary results indicated a “8% decrease in alcohol and/or drug use disorders, 12% decrease in suicide ideation, 17% decrease in self-inflicted injuries including suicide attempts, and a 35% decrease in accidental poisoning with opioids, related narcotics, barbiturates, or sedatives”. Albeit correlational, the results signify NPTs’ potential to reduce the detrimental mental health issues associated with chronic pain and traditional pharmacological therapies. The data in this publication yields some promising results for NPTs moving forward in the medical climate, especially with the rising rates of drug abuse.