By Marni Jameson
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Two months ago, Gary Rager's girlfriend asked him to do the unthinkable.
The 44-year-old woman, who has suffered disabling pain for the past three years, asked Rager if he would help her end her life.
"I don't want to kill her, and I don't want to go to prison. But I don't want to see her suffer anymore either," said Rager, a 59-year-old Sanford, Fla., sculptor whose work appears at area theme parks and public spaces throughout Orlando, Fla.
Such are the desperate measures that many afflicted with chronic disabling conditions - and those who love them - contemplate.
Some do more than think about it.
Like many patients in chronic pain, Karen Brooks has seen dozens of doctors over the past few years.
All take tests and discuss her physical health, but few have inquired about her mental health, said her sister, Michelle Brooks, of Maitland, Fla., who takes her sister to her doctors' appointments.
Given the high correlation between chronic illness or pain and depression - even suicide - more providers need to bring up the dark subject, health experts say.
Large-scale studies show that at least 10 percent of suicides - and possibly as many as 70 percent - are linked to chronic illness or unrelenting pain.
Authors of a 2011 British study that looked at the link concluded that patients with such conditions "should be considered a high-risk group for suicide . and much greater attention should be given to providing better . psychological support."
But doctors are often too busy focusing on physical problems to deal with the mental ones that go with them, say those specializing in chronic illness.
Brooks has been diagnosed with several medical conditions in an attempt to explain and treat the severe pain that consumes the left half of her face. Her most recent diagnosis, which she got last week, is rheumatoid arthritis.
A progressive, chronic disease that causes painful inflammation in joints throughout the body, rheumatoid arthritis is often misdiagnosed, said Dr. Shazia Beg, assistant professor of rheumatology at University of Central Florida College of Medicine.