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Overcoming Depression After Spinal Cord Injury

dealing with depression after spinal cord injury

You deserve to feel happy and fulfilled, so don’t let depression after spinal cord injury keep you down.

Depression is a condition that is often misunderstood.

Many people think that depression is just a state of mind, but it’s actually a mood disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

It sounds simple, but there are so many complex chemicals and processes that determine one’s mood and perception of life.

When people tell someone with depression to “get it together” or “stop being so sensitive,” they’re undermining the condition and making that person feel as if depression is their fault or something they can deal with on their own.

This article will help you understand why spinal cord injury patients get depression, its symptoms, and what you can do to treat it.

Why Depression After Spinal Cord Injury is Common

management of spinal cord injury depression or anxiety

Depression after spinal cord injury is extremely common because of the drastic changes in lifestyle it can require.

Depending on the level and severity of injury, depression can take a lot of your independence away and force you to rely on others more than you’ve ever needed to in the past.

Generally, the more impaired motor control one has, the greater the likelihood of developing depression.

All sorts of things after spinal cord injury can cause depression.

Sometimes you’re no longer to keep your job due to physical limitations, sometimes you don’t have the support you need, and sometimes chronic pain prevents you from getting anything done.

Anybody can get depression at any point in their life, and it can last for short or long periods.

There are varying levels of depression. For some, it’s mild and for others, it’s overwhelming and takes over your life.

Symptoms of Depression After Spinal Cord Injury

depression after spinal cord injury can affect your relationships with others

Depression not only messes with your mental health, but also your physical health, quality of life, and relationships with others.

Symptoms of depression after spinal cord injury include:

  • Lack of interest/ motivation
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low energy/ fatigue

People with depression are also more likely to engage in substance abuse and have thoughts of suicide.

If you think you might have depression, know that there are lots of ways to get help. Depression is treatable, and life can still be fulfilling after spinal cord injury.

However, you can’t wait for someone to reach out a helping hand. You must take the initiative and seek help.

How to Treat Depression After Spinal Cord Injury

treating depression after sci

There’s no standard treatment for depression. What works for some person might not work for another, so you may have to do a little trial and error to find the best treatment for you.


Talking about your feelings can be very therapeutic, but you might not have someone to talk to.

Psychotherapists are trained to listen to your problems, guide your thoughts, and provide resources that can help.

Psychotherapy dives deep and helps you understand why you’re feeling depressed.

Your feelings are valid, so try not to be too hard on yourself.

Once you can identify the underlying problems, a psychotherapist will help suggest ways to cope.


There are tons of benefits to exercise including improved mood, energy, and sleep, which makes it ideal for helping people deal with depression.

Spinal cord injury may limit your mobility, but it shouldn’t stop you from exercising the parts of your body that you can control.

When you exercise, your body releases a bunch of chemicals like:

  • Serotonin is essential for mood regulation, deep sleep, and a healthy appetite
  • Norepinephrine helps boost focus and alertness
  • Endorphins make you feel good and help relieve pain
  • Dopamine plays a huge role in your perception of reward and motivation

You don’t really have anything to lose by exercising, so it’s worth a try. By itself, it may not be able to treat severe cases of depression, but it can definitely help you feel better.


Ever noticed how sleepy you get after eating a bunch of bread? Or how much more energized you feel after eating some fruit?

What you eat matters and can significantly affect how you feel.

This analysis of 21 studies found that:

A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.

Eating a diet high in natural, unprocessed foods is also better for our overall health and can prevent complications like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

You might want to also cut back on the alcohol.

Alcohol slows down central nervous system functioning, which is why it causes people to experience lapses of judgment, impaired motor skills, and emotional instability.

A little bit of indulgence every once in a while is okay and even healthy for your sanity, but don’t get carried away. Practice everything in moderation.


There are different types of antidepressants that inhibit and promote various neurotransmitters in the brain, so you might have to try different kinds of antidepressants before finding the right one.

Another thing to keep in mind is that antidepressants don’t work immediately.

It usually takes a few weeks before they take full effect, so it’s important to stay patient before deciding that a certain antidepressant isn’t for you.

Before taking any new medication, be sure to notify your doctor of all the other medications you’re currently taking.

Some medications don’t respond well together and can cause harmful side effects.

Depression After Spinal Cord Injury

you deserve happiness so don't let depression after spinal cord injury get in your way

Spinal cord injury can require lots of lifestyle adjustments, so it is common to develop depression.

However, depression is treatable and many SCI patients learn to be resilient and live purposefully again.

Now that you know what symptoms to look out for and how drastically depression can affect your life, be sure to take the initiative and seek support when you need it.

You’re not alone and you deserve happiness. Good luck!

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