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Depression After an SCI: Signs and Symptoms

Depression After an SCI
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A spinal cord injury (SCI) is a life-changing event. Things will never completely go back to the way they once were, and many changes may be taking place with your physical condition and your emotions.

Because of this, you may find it hard to cope with everyday life.

According to the World Health Organization, “Most people with spinal cord injury experience chronic pain, and an estimated 20-30% show clinically significant signs of depression.” So while it’s normal to have feelings of sadness, anger, or loneliness after a SCI, if some of your symptoms last longer than a few weeks, you may have a more serious mental health problem that requires professional support.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Some of the signs or symptoms of depression can be mistaken for other things. For example, you may think you are sleeping a lot because you are just tired all the time when in reality, you are suffering from depression. And while some symptoms are psychological, others may be physical.  This list should help you determine what might be a symptom:


  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, or low energy while participating in activities.
  • Changes in appetite, whether you are eating a lot more or a lot less than you used to.
  • Lack of concentration may not be an attention issue, but rather a sign of depression.
  • Having difficulty or the inability to making decisions, especially simple ones, such as what to eat for lunch.
  • Experiencing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
  • Consistently having a disrupted sleep pattern.
  • Feeling that you are to blame for everything.
  • Having thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

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Depression Is Not Your Fault

It’s important to remember that depression is not your fault. There is no one single cause for depression. Depression comes from chemical imbalances in your brain. Some people are born with these imbalances. For others, the imbalance may be the result of a life-changing event or stressor that affected the chemicals or neurotransmitters in their brain.

The good news is that depression is treatable. If you think you may be suffering from depression, talk to a friend or family member, and get help from your doctor. If your doctor believes you are clinically depressed, he can help you find ways to manage it.

Depression in Europe

In Europe, 25% of the general population suffers from depression or anxiety. That’s not much lower than the percentage of people with SCI that are experiencing depression. These numbers tell us that if you are experiencing depression after a spinal cord injury, you are not alone.  

The key is to not let your depression become a disabling condition. Up to 50% of chronic sick leaves are due to depression or anxiety. Depression, if left unmanaged, can become a bigger barrier to your reintegration into society than your physical disability. Sadly, about half of all major depression goes untreated. Some people feel that there is a stigma against mental health problems and they try to deal with them on their own.

Treating Depression

Antidepressants and counseling are the two most common methods used for treating depression. These treatments have been shown to reliably reduce symptoms of depression so that people can return to their normal functioning level.

Antidepressant medications address the chemical imbalances in your brain. A common type of antidepressant is an SSRI. This type of medication increases the amount of the chemical serotonin that is in your brain, which makes you feel better both emotionally and physically.

While there are many types of counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the type most often used for depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you focus on positive beliefs, encourages you to engage in meaningful activities, and makes you very aware of what might become a negative thought pattern.

These treatments are often more successful when used together and when used as early in the depressive episode as possible. So if you think you are clinically depressed after your SCI, please get help as soon as you realize it is a problem. This will shorten your experience with depression and get you back to enjoying life as soon as possible!


Author:  Annie Beth Donahue is a professional writer with a health and disability focus.