Disability and Depression

Disability and Depression

When you get hurt and suffer a Spinal Cord Injury, you suddenly find yourself in a new world where it feels like you have no control over anything.  You’ve joined a “club” you may have known about, but never expected to be a member of.  All manner of thoughts and feelings may be taking turns occupying your brain.  Some form of depression is a very normal reaction at some point in the adjustment process.  Some people, amazingly, avoid it completely.  “It is what it is, I have no choice but to move on, no point in allowing myself to dwell on it, get depressed, etc.” Not many escape some level of sadness, however, but acknowledging it is difficult.  Your body has just changed in ways you never dreamed of, so the last thing you want to think is that your mind is messed up too.  If depression sets in, don’t ignore it, don’t withdraw, do something to change it.    

Typical symptoms of depression include feeling sad, low energy, trouble sleeping, weight loss or gain, suicidal thoughts, loss of interest, moodiness, and loss of concentration.  People are amazingly resilient and usually the depression lifts. There are ways to accelerate the process of adjustment:

  • Put one foot (wheel!) in front of the other and force yourself to do the things that you know usually are enjoyable.
  • Talk with someone outside your usual circle (we often don’t want to burden family or close friends) with whom you can safely say, “This is really hard!”
  • Get with other folks with SCI in a support group or socially.
  • Get out of the house and socialize, exercise, get into disabled sports, make plans to get back in school or take some classes in something you were always interested in but never got around to.
  • Start thinking about what employment would look like.

If you’ve had depression in the past, you may have a blueprint for how you dealt with it, although now it is likely a much more difficult and challenging circumstance than any you have encountered. 

If the symptoms continue to be severe – if nothing makes sense, nothing seems worth it, you are not doing the things you can do to move on (mastering self-care, advocating for yourself, getting out in the community, enjoying friends or family) it may be time to talk to someone – a counselor or therapist, clergy, or maybe a peer support person you met in Rehab.  If you are having suicidal thoughts it’s definitely time.  (Crisis Line 888-724-7240).  As much as we feel pressured to be stoic and stay strong, we all have a limit on how much we should go it alone. 


Richard Green, LCSW Sharp Rehabilitation Hospital, San Diego

1 thought on “Disability and Depression”

  1. Situational depression is difficult, but it can be overcome. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for professional help and also for emotional help and support from people in your life while you work through it.

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