Spinal cord injury can have a devastating effect on a person’s physical state and rehabilitation is often concentrated around the physical condition. However, the impact upon a patient’s mental health can also be significant and should not be overlooked.
Emotional and psychosocial issues may develop or worsen after a spinal cord injury. There is often an adjustment period after such an injury and sadness, anxiety or clinical depression may develop. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan found “adults living with spinal cord injuries have a near-80% increased risk of developing psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety, compared to people without the traumatic injury”. In the UK, the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA), along with the University of Reading and the University of Buckingham, produced a report – It’s not just physical. The report found that a person with a spinal cord injury is three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than a person without injury. It also concluded that “psychological damage caused by a spinal cord injury is, at best, considered as an afterthought, and at worst, completely ignored by the medical profession.”
The importance of psychological treatment and support as well as anti-depressant medication can be crucial in managing this adjustment but availability of NHS psychological support for those with spinal cord injuries can vary. The SIA has therefore developed a telephone counselling service stating it is “essential that everyone affected by spinal cord injuries has access to lifelong, expert counselling support when required”.