The importance of being honest

A significant life change such as a spinal cord injury can turn your world upside down. Among the many challenges - physical, financial, home and career - it is absolutely vital to give time and attention to your mental state. It's important to try to 'stay strong', but for all involved, this is precisely the time when sharing real feelings with someone you trust is paramount.

A little help goes a long way

There’s no denying there is an increased chance of suffering from a mental health disorder if you have a physical disability: studies from around the world have shown this. Sometimes, taking care of your physical needs may mean neglecting your mental and emotional needs. Other times, living with pain or changed life circumstances can bring about chronic stress, anxiety, depression or even thoughts of suicide.

There’s good news. The first is that knowing yourself, reflecting on your own emotional state, and taking time to assess what’s up – and down – with your thoughts and feelings will go a long way toward clarifying how you’re doing and what you need. The second is that there are many people and organizations that will help you stay mentally healthy and even flourish in your new life.

Reach out to us if you have concerns about your mental and emotional state. We have resources and supports for you. The information below is provided as a general overview.

A close-up of a man's hand brushing wheat in a field

Why are physical disabilities and mental health challenges linked?

Not everyone with a spinal cord injury will struggle with a mental health issue. We are all different. Plus, there is evidence that psychological stress lowers throughout the years after the onset of a disability. But life factors associated with an SCI increase the chance of developing an anxiety disorder or depression. Some of these are:

  • Unemployment – a general sensation of lacking purpose, missing out on workplace dynamics, and losing earning power
  • Social isolation – a sense of loneliness as a result of diminished mobility, loss of friends and fewer social engagements
  • Change in relationships – shifts in the nature of spousal relationships, friendships, sexuality and plans to have children, if that is desired
  • Loss of independence and body integrity – the frustration of not being able to move around quickly and easily, loss of capacity to do physical tasks, and relying on others for care
  • Age – children and those who have not yet completed their education or begun careers tend to suffer more mental health disorders throughout their lives
  • Financial strain – medical bills, additional living costs and getting by on a reduced income (earned, government supported or both)
  • Difficulty accepting a disability – not reaching the final phases of adjustment to the onset of a disability (the phases are shock, anxiety, denial, depression, internalized anger, externalized anger, acknowledgment, adjustment)

What resources can I access?

You can start with us at Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (SCIO) – if you haven’t registered with us to access our free services, do so using this form or call us at 1-877-422-1112 (or 416-422-5644). You may also want to look at the following associations and organizations:

  • » Canadian Mental Health Association  – a nation-wide, charitable organization that promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness
  • » eMentalHealth.ca – an online search tool for local mental health resources, counselling and psychotherapies near you, screen tools to self-assess your condition and information sheets on various mental health conditions
  • » Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Science  – a public hospital providing a range of specialized assessment and treatment services to those living with complex and serious mental illness
  • » Helpguide.org – unbiased, motivating resources and self-help tools for mental, emotional and social health
  • » Reconnect Community Health Services – safe, effective and personalized services for mental health and addictions
  • » The Access Point – a centralized point where you can apply for individual mental health and addictions support services and supportive housing
  • » NAN HOPE – The Nishnawbe Aski Mental Health Wellness Support Access Program (NAN Hope) provides community-driven, culturally appropriate and timely mental health and addictions support to members of the 49 First Nations communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Territory.

Consider that members of your family may also require mental health support. Through SCIO’s Peer Program we match people who are newly injured, and their family members, to people who have lived experience with a spinal cord injury, and who understand.  We encourage you to have open and honest conversations with others in your life about the stresses of living with an SCI. Those conversations make it more possible to find a sense of meaning and live with joy.

> Read The importance of being connected article in SCIO’s Spring 2020 Community magazine