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Spinal Cord Injury and Depression – The Importance of Family Support

Spinal Cord Injury and Depression – The Importance of Family Support

Depression is the most common psychological complication of spinal cord injury (SCI) and is known to adversely affect the physical rehabilitation process. SCI is associated with weakness, sensory dysfunction, impaired respiratory function, neurogenic bladder or bowel, sexual dysfunction, and chronic pain, which lead to reduced mobility and function, and impairment of social and vocational roles. Depression has been known to exacerbate these complications.  A new study tells us that family caregiving lowers the risk of depression in SCI victims.

Effect of Family Caregiving on Depression in the First 3 Months After Spinal Cord Injury (. 2018 Feb; 42(1): 130–136.)

3 Minute read from spinal cord injury lawyer Hamilton

There is no doubt that a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is a catastrophic injury with potential devastating impacts which includes far-reaching physical, social and psychological consequences. The sudden onset of a spinal cord injury has shown that many accident victims will develop very severe negative emotions in response to becoming paraplegic or quadriplegic (tetraplegic).  Many see their new life as a threat to both psychological and social integration.  Experiencing a spinal cord injury poses massive challenges that requires adaptation and resilience in order to simply…cope. It takes a mountain of mental strength to eventually discovery new ways of doing things, not only physically, socially and vocationally, but also emotionally.

In my experience, each person is very unique with his or her own individual personality & characteristics and how they cope with the sudden onset of such a terrible, and this needs to be appreciated during rehabilitation. Every victim is different – and everyone needs a different approach. Some spinal cord injury victims are strongly resilient and “ready to take on the day” while others simply can’t deal mentally on to adapt to their new frightening and confusing life. There is nothing predictable about the psychology of an SCI – about being paraplegic or tetraplegic.

There is simply no way to predict how a person will psychologically adapt to their new life and now lack of privacy, loss of independence, sense of helplessness, their (assumed) separation from friends and social circles, the inability to control basic bodily functions and change in body image put a person through a grieving process, much like losing a loved one…and then worse.

Even more concerning is that a large amount of victims who suffer a spinal cord injuries also often suffer a brain injury because of the severity of the accident(s) that he or she was involved in. At times, personality and behavioral changes may no doubt involve mood swings, sadness aggression, depression, agitation organization and decision making problems. Some victims may become more easily distressed than others. Mourning or grieving may also present with physical complaints, preoccupation with a former self-image and who they once were, feelings of guilt, feelings of anger/irritability and behavioural changes (eg. avoidance of social activity).

As critical injury lawyer, the most difficult thing I have seen in my career is the psychological adjustment from a newly paralyzed victim that also suffers a head injury. It is not an easy situation to deal with.  Helping  victims in this position not only requires a lawyer-client relationship (because it is my job to protect your future, financially) but it also require time, patience, and friendship.

Family Support Matters for a Successful Emotional Recovery

During the acute phase of an SCI, it is very important that family help with both care-giving and emotional recovery. It is much, much better for a spinal cord injury victim in the long run.  A new study out of Korea tells us that

  • depression is highly prevalent in SCI patients and;
  • that depression is even more prevalent during the first 3 months after an accident.

The study found that family caregiving, as opposed to hired attendant care, is associated with a lower risk of depression after SCI – at least initially. The study focused on the depression levels of 76 spinal cord injury victims in the first 3 months after a spinal cord injury. The victims were monitored during the acute phase and administered the Beck Depressive Inventory (BDI) test, which is a psychometric test for measuring the severity of a person’s depression.  The end result was that family caregiving lowers the risk of depression.

There is no doubt that the role of caregivers after a spinal cord injury is critical to rehabilitation. Caregivers not only take care of the patient’s physical well-being, but also provide emotional support – and for victims, that emotional and personal care support combined is very important for an accident victim to receive. When family members help and provide care, it lowers the risk of depression in the victim.

Hamilton Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer Serving Ontario

If you or a loved one has a question about a spinal cord injury, please do not hesitate to contact us at 905-333-8888. We would be happy to sit and have a talk about your loved one’s best options.  You can also chat with our live operator and we will get back to you within 3 business hours.

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