The Psychological Adjustment after SCI

psychological help after SCI

With National Mental Health Awareness Week bringing a greater focus on mental health struggles this week, it’s important to develop a deeper insight into the mental effects of a spinal cord injury – a condition that mainly sheds light on the physical effects after injury.

Traumatic events live with us forever

In a previous 2020 study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers from Michigan Medicine found that adults with spinal cord injury are actually at much higher risk of developing a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety, compared to adults without the condition.

Spinal cord injury has a huge potential of resulting in a traumatic sequence of events after the incident occurs. While the recovery of an SCI mainly focuses on the motor, sensory and autonomic functions of the body, spinal cord injury can have incredibly damaging psychological effects on an injured individual.

Many who have suffered from an SCI suddenly will exhibit extreme negative emotions, affecting them psychologically and socially. Post-traumatic stress disorder may occur at an elevated level after the incident happens.

These types of traumatic reactions are recurrent following an acquired spinal cord injury, with 40% of sufferers reporting a symptom pattern of intrusive traumatic memories. If not treated, the lifetime effects of PTSD for those with spinal cord injury remains high: up to 29% of those suffering continue to report symptoms even 30 years after injury.

No incident is the same

Psychological factors may occur early after an SCI and can continue throughout the individual’s life, where they may require adjustments in support to improve the quality of life of each patient. In a previous study, there was said to be a link between psychological factors such as personalities and adjustments to spinal cord injury, with younger sufferers more accepting of SCI than older individuals.

Psychological Issues of SCI

As you can imagine, adjusting to life again after a spinal cord injury or disability is a life-long process that may never feel ‘normal’. When injured, it’s difficult not to feel as though you are dealing with the loss of your former self. As you learn more about SCI and work on finding new skills, you can find a new way to live comfortably and hopefully accept and come to terms with the incident.

Rehabilitation can be very rewarding for SCI individuals and many will address the concerns of the injured, such as:

  • Learning what life will be like after becoming a spinal cord injury patient
  • Dealing with vigorous changes in emotions
  • Questioning if life is worth living any longer
  • Loss of independence and privacy
  • Learning to care for yourself again after the loss of full independence
  • How to regain independence

Big changes with room for acceptance

A spinal cord injury can affect anyone at any time in life and depending on where you are in your life at the time of injury, you may need to adjust or drop certain roles in your previous life. Developing the new ways you navigate through life can be challenging, and your relationships with family and friends may suffer during the process.

It can take a great deal of re-working, but it is important to consider the possibilities and work out how you are going to work with them. You may become more dependent, physically, emotionally and perhaps even financially, but support from family, friends and outside networks can make all the difference.

Change in mental health needs

After trauma, depression and anxiety are completely normal and expected reactions to the new physical challenges you face. Some may benefit from specific medication or even counselling – it all depends on the individual.

If suicidal ideation occurs, the individual is encouraged to discuss any thoughts of suicide with a respected health care provider. Some patients are referred to SCI psychology on an outpatient basis if needed. It is important to always communicate concerns, feelings and thoughts after experiencing spinal cord injury, and there is always someone available to provide support where needed.

The staff at Aspire Law have been advised and mentored by Aspire to understand all aspects of spinal cord injury; both the short term and long term physical effects, as well as the emotional impact on you and your family. Get in touch today to discuss how we can help support you.