SCI & mental health

Posted by Nurse Linda in Life After Paralysis on February 20, 2020 # Health, Relationships

There is a lot of information about mental health that is seen on TV, ads, and announcements. When people think of mental health, they often confuse it with mental illness. Mental health is a process where you keep your mind healthy much like keeping your body healthy. Attending to your mental health does not mean you have mental illness. The umbrella term, mental health, includes mental illnesses which are specific medical issues. Mental health is a broader term for keeping your mind fit emotionally, psychologically, and socially.

Any life altering change can affect an individual’s mental health. It does not mean you become mentally ill. Everyone must work on their mental health but after a significant change in function, it becomes even more important to focus on your mental health. You need to look for signs of depression, anxiety and other issues but this week, let’s examine some strategies to keep your mental health healthy.

Negativity is a way of thinking that encumbers many people. It is looking at things from the worst vantage point. This can include being offered a new job for which you might think you do not deserve or will not be able to do. These negative thoughts can come from your own mind or from others who tell you that you are not capable of doing something. Sometimes words are spoken by others that indicate your short comings rather than looking at how well you will do. Other times, these words are spoken in our own minds.

Negativity can be words or actions. You might want to go to a movie, but the negative response is that it is too cold, or the theater might not be accessible. Even still, what if cathing time is right in the middle of the movie. All of this might be pointed out by another or you might be hesitant because of these reasons.

If you are faced with these negative thoughts, think about how you can work with them. You can dress for the weather and warm the car before getting in it. Look online or call about information about for the accessibility of the theater. Most newer facilities will be accessible, some older facilities might advertise accessibility when they don’t have the accessibility that you need. Ask specific questions. If the theater is not accessible, can you go to another theater? Catheterization is somewhat flexible. Cath before you go and after you come home. Just make sure to work within the general catheterization boundaries which are not to cath within less than four hours but not longer than six hours. Monitor the amount of fluid and caffeine you take in during the movie. Select the best movie time based on your needs.

Often, we are our own worst critics. When something is said to us or about us, we instantly jump to negative thoughts. I am not good enough. I am not attractive enough. I am too fat, thin, tall, short. I am disabled. Instead of thinking negatively, try reversing your thoughts to something favorable about yourself. Changing your own negative thinking often takes years of practice. Instead of the negative, think, I have the ability to…, I know how to…, I can instruct someone in how to…

Positivity is a much better way of going through life. It helps build your mental health. Learn to be positive by kicking out those negative thoughts about yourself. Set the stage for well-being. Start when you wake. Think about the beauty of the day and all the wonderful things you get to do. Now, you might not be looking forward to a particular day but try to find the gems hidden along the way.

Perhaps you know you will be meeting some friends. This can be a good time but often, it is just ok until one day something spectacular happens. A funny joke or a hearty laugh can make the day even more fun. Often, you have to live through some life together to get to the really great parts.

If you are having trouble finding positivity in your life, look to the internet for affirmations. There are many sites that discuss positivity. Some are not labeled as such, but people have sites of jokes, funny observances or good feelings. When meeting with those friends and they talk about something that happened, point out to them how you are not surprised at how the event turned out because of their ability to tackle situations or other positive statement. Talk with others about situations that are not so positive to discuss how the situation can be improved. The more positivity that you provide to others, the more positivity will find its way back to you.

Exercising Your Brain is actually a fun project. Reading is a good start. Connecting the written word to an image in your brain is one exercise. If you prefer to listen to a book, you still can use the imaging creation part of your brain. Periodically stop to recall and think about what you have just read or heard to improve your recall.

A bit more elaborate brain exercise is working puzzles. Vary the types of puzzles you work, jigsaw, word puzzles, math puzzles. Many sites have free puzzles on line. Jeopardy has J6 which is a continuation of the show. It is a good way to listen and then answer some questions on your own. You can also try writing a story, listening to music, playing cards, learning a new language, taking a class, really any activity that uses some thinking. Vary your activities so you get different parts of your brain stimulated. Do not worry about being perfect in your brain exercise, this process is for your own self-improvement.

Another good brain exercise is to find a topic that your really enjoy and learning all about it. I have met people that study history, science, all the school subjects. Also, I meet people who follow the royal family, car racing, television stories, old movies. It does not matter what interests you. When you find a subject that you like and really dig into it, the information that you collect becomes fascinating to others. I met a man who grows corn. So, I asked him about it. Such fascinating bits of information! I even grew some just to try it, something I would never dream of doing but he was just so interesting with his corn stories.

Socialization is interaction with people. Do not feel like you have to tell everyone about your life or interests. Ask others about theirs. You never know what you will find out. Once you find a subject that interests another person, ask them all about it. Their stories will be interesting, and you will learn something new. Just as I learned all about corn.

There have been studies about interaction with other people as a way of keeping our mental health well. There are people in our lives that we know such as caregivers, family members, neighbors and friends. But there are other people out in the world that we engage with regularly but don’t really know. If you go to the grocery store, you might get to know the person who checks out your purchases weekly. Your mail carrier is another, or the clerk where you buy coffee. We interact with people but often do not know anything about them. Find out their names so you can call them by it. Even these simple interactions are important to mental health.

Physical Activity is another way to promote mental health well-being. Moving your body creates connections in your nervous system including your brain and spinal cord. If you can move your body, be sure to do so. If movement is a challenge, have someone help move your body for you. It is important when moving to think about the action that you are performing. If you or someone on your behalf is moving your toes, think about your toes moving up and down as it is happening. When moving your ankles, think about them moving up, down and around as the movement occurs. Watch it happening. When your body is moving, messages are being sent by the foot to the brain. At the same time, if you are thinking about your foot moving, messages are being sent from the brain to the foot. The issue with spinal cord injury is that at the level of injury, the message is not getting through. But keep thinking and moving so that connection will be made. This does happen. Why quickly for some and not so quickly for others is not quite known, yet.

Add a little music to your movement or exercise routine. Research has demonstrated favorable outcomes with rhythms added to movement especially with neurological diseases such a Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and many, many others.

As always, talk with your healthcare professional about a quick mental health check up at your annual appointment. This simple question and answer examination can provide insight about your baseline and any changes during follow up. This is not a full checkup for mental illness, but rather an assessment of your mental well-being.

Pediatric Consideration
Assessing the mental well-being of children can be a challenge. Young children might not yet have the vocabulary or ability to analyze their feelings. Older children might not want to share with parents or caregivers. This can be quite a dilemma for those that care for them.

Much as with last week’s blog keeping the lines of communication open is the challenge. Being nonjudgmental while keeping your child safe is a tough role for the parent. Get to know those children and adults that are in your child’s world. Find out what other parents are thinking. Their child might comment to their own parents about things that happen which you can then deal with.

Providing an accepting environment for your child is also important. Remember, your child might perform personal care differently from you or from other children. Don’t make them the exception but rather accept that this is usual for them. Parents acceptance of the needs of their individual child is key in raising mentally healthy children.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.