The emotional impact of paralysis

Learning that you are paralyzed is devastating and overwhelming news.

The best way to combat your feelings of helplessness and confusion is to arm yourself with information on what a spinal cord injury is, and what it means in terms of short-term planning and long-range goals.

However, depression can be common for individuals living with paralysis and there is of course an adjustment period as you navigate your new normal.

The most important point to remember is that you are not alone. There are nearly six million Americans living with some form of paralysis (stroke, SCI, MS, ALS, etc.) and many resources to help guide you from the moment you are injured.

Understanding adjustment and depression

Adjustment to paralysis is a process of changing one's thoughts and feelings and is something that takes time. The goal of adjusting is to rebuild one's identity and to find a new balance in relationships.

The stages of adjustment can include grieving, taking control, talking about your disability, taking care of yourself, and looking ahead.

Depression, however, is a serious medical disorder that affects your thoughts, feelings, physical health and behaviors as well as other aspects of your life.

Depression can cause physical and psychological symptoms. It can worsen pain, make sleep difficult, cause loss of energy, take away your enjoyment of life and make it difficult for you to take good care of your health.

Other symptoms include oversleeping, change in weight, loss of interest or pleasure, and/or negative thoughts. Depression is common in the spinal cord injury population -- affecting about 1 in 5 people.

There are treatments available to ease the symptoms of depression using psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy (antidepressants), or a combination of both.

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from depression, please speak with your physician immediately.

Webcast: Adjusting to paralysis, with Gary Karp

Resources

If you are looking for more information on how to manage depression or have a specific question, our information specialists are available business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET.

Another helpful resource is the Reeve Foundation’s Peer & Family Support Program which fosters peer-to-peer support, via trained and certified mentors.

If you or a loved one is facing challenges that are overwhelming due to paralysis or would just like to talk to someone who’s been there, request a peer mentor.

Additionally, the Reeve Foundation maintains fact sheets on adjustment and depression with resources from trusted Reeve Foundation sources. Check out our repository of fact sheets on hundreds of topics ranging from state resources to secondary complications of paralysis.

We encourage you to also reach out to cerebral palsy support groups and organizations, including:

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.