Spinal Cord Injury

People who have sustained spinal cord injuries often experience some of these feelings:

  • Depression
  • Denial
  • Grief
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Thoughts of Suicide


Depression is a common psychological symptom following a spinal cord injury. One person may describe it as being irritable, another as sad or "down in the dumps." Depression can lead to

  • Lack of appetite or overeating;
  • Difficulty sleeping or a low energy level;
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions;
  • Generally decreased interest; or
  • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Any of these symptoms can be "normal" reactions to an injury. And there are other factors that can affect your emotional condition.

  • Recurring or ongoing pain can increase irritability or dampen your enjoyment of family and social events.
  • Medications can have side effects such as sedation or decreased energy. Review side effects with your doctor so you can appropriately adjust your activity level.
  • Fatigue following your therapy sessions can decrease your ability to participate in family activities or visit with friends.
  • Isolation from friends and family can negatively affect your mood and lead to depression. In the hospital, there were many activities; after discharge, you may often find yourself alone and lonely.
  • Additional stress on your relationship with your significant other. Stress might spring from changes in physical functioning, how you perceive yourself, or an ongoing medical problem, such as urinary tract infection or skin breakdown.

If you're depressed, you may feel you don't have control of your life. This is not true! You still have a great deal of control over your life and your situation is not hopeless.

You certainly face new challenges to your independence. But you can maintain control by having the appropriate training, equipment, and skills. "Regaining control" is a key issue in overcoming depression.

If you think you might be depressed, talk with someone about how you feel. Discuss your feelings with your physician or family member.

For additional information about depression, see a local mental health professional, or view our list of resources.


Denial is a defense mechanism, a retreat from a truth that is too painful. It serves a useful purpose for an injured person, especially during the early stages of an injury. Denial can also be found in the family, as members begin to recognize the significant changes that will occur in their lives.

Denial is often a necessary defense mechanism. It is simply beyond most people's capacity to accept sudden, drastic changes to their well being. The brain acts as if it is unaware of the problems. When in denial, you may set unrealistic goals, ignore the doctor's orders, or try to maintain your pre-injury routines.

After a while, you will use denial less. As you give up the denial mechanism, however, you may notice an increase in depression. Please remember, denial cannot be a healthy coping mechanism for an extended period of time!

For additional information about denial, please contact a local mental health professional or view ourlist of resources.


Grief is a normal feeling for a person with a serious injury. In many ways, it is a necessary stage of adjustment.

Grief is the period of time when a you realize the personal implications of your injury (or the injuries of a loved one). You begin to mourn the loss of physical abilities, hobbies, job role, and other activities you enjoyed. While grieving, you may experience

  • Loss of appetite;
  • Sleep disturbances;
  • Periods of sadness and loneliness;
  • Low energy levels; or
  • A desire to be alone.

It is normal for you, or anyone who has experienced a significant loss, to go through a period of grief and mourning! Grief is not "wrong," and can be a healthy part of your recovery.

For additional information about grief, please contact a local mental health professional or view our list of resources.


You might have anxiety symptoms after an injury. Anxiety is often a reaction during the process of adjusting to an injury. Anxiety is typically described as a "panic" or "anxious" type reaction.

Symptoms of anxiety that you may experience include

  • Trembling,
  • Shaking,
  • Sweaty palms,
  • Fast breathing,
  • Elevated pulse,
  • Increased speech,
  • Fear of losing control,
  • Confusion, and
  • Restlessness.

When suffering anxiety, you may find yourself engaging in activities that seem to have no purpose. During high levels of anxiety, you may even become suspicious and paranoid about family, friends, or your healthcare professionals.

For additional information about anxiety, please contact a local mental health professional or view our list of resources.


Anger is a very significant emotional reaction, and one that you will probably experience at some point following your injury.

Anger appears in many guises:

  • As bitterness and resentment toward what has happened to you;
  • As self-blame, or self-abuse (sometimes people even feel they want to hurt themselves again);
  • As argumentativeness towards family; or
  • As throwing objects or wanting to break things.

Anger is typically expressed toward other people; for example, yelling at a family member, or using harsh language with people you love, and who love you! Anger may drive you to push family members and friends away emotionally. Words said in anger are hard to retract later. You can harm an important relationship when anger rules your emotional tone.

Levels of anger can be increased by

  • Lack of sleep;
  • Poor nutrition;
  • A sense of a loss of control; and
  • Lack of goals and direction.

You will most likely go through a stage of feeling angry, but the goal is to recognize it as a stage to be passed through, and not a place you want to be stuck in.

Anger can be a very destructive emotion. If you find your anger is unrelenting or increasing, you should talk with someone about it.

For additional information about anger, please contact a local mental health professional or view our list of resources.

Thoughts of Suicide

You may have thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or wanting to die. These thoughts are not unusual. Most people with spinal cord injuries have thoughts of committing suicide at some point during their recovery.

In the months after an injury, your mind is trying to adjust to a major change in your physical abilities. At some point, suicide may appear to be a reasonable answer. However, if you think carefully about it, you will recognize that suicide is not a good answer for what has happened to you!

Also bear in mind that even if you followed through on these thoughts, the emotional harm to the people who love you would be hard to ever undo. This is particularly true where children are involved. Children tend to blame themselves when a parent commits suicide. It is a burden they often carry into adulthood. So even when you feel suicide is the right answer for you, suicide is never the right answer for the family or for you.

If you find that you continue to have suicidal thoughts, talk with your physician or other healthcare professional. There are toll-free numbers for suicide hotlines that you can call, or you can contact your local mental health professional.

In nearly all instances, thoughts of suicide will pass. It is important that you recognize that suicidal thoughts are transitory.

For additional information about suicidal ideation, please contact a local mental health professional or view our list of resources.


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