Depression and Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders
Depression is a serious illness that can change many parts of your life. It might change how you feel, how you think, and even what you are able to do. It is different from normal feelings of sadness, stress or grief. Depression can get in the way of doing what you want and it may last weeks, months, or even years if not treated. Depression can affect all types of people from all walks of life. People with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) may be affected by depression more often because of the serious changes, stress, and challenges they face. About one in three people with SCI/D will become depressed at least once during their life.
If you think that you might have depression it is important that you discuss this with one of your health care providers. With treatment, depression can be improved or cured. You can feel better and enjoy your life again.
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
Depression is identified by symptoms that are there most of the time for two weeks or more.
Two of the most important symptoms of depression are:
Sadness, feeling empty, down or “blue”
Loss of interest in things, or not getting pleasure from things that you like
Other symptoms of depression are:
Eating more or less than usual. This may lead to weight loss or gain
Sleeping too much or not enough
Feeling restless, not able to sit still, or feeling slowed down
Feeling tired or low on energy
Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty
Finding it hard to think, make decisions, or remember things
Thinking about dying or killing yourself
If you have some of these symptoms for two weeks or more, talk to one of your SCI/D health care providers about what this could mean. An SCI/D can affect things like energy level, appetite, and sleep, even if a person does not have depression. So it is important to speak with an SCI/D health care provider to help decide what you should do.
What Causes Depression?
Many things can cause or add to depression. Family history, life events, stress, medical problems, some medications, alcohol, and drugs can all affect depression. An SCI/D can lead to other problems that make depression worse. These include pressure ulcers, urinary tract infections, and pain. Sometimes depression can occur even when there are no clear reasons.
How Is Depression Treated?
There are two main ways to treat depression: psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. Psychotherapy means working with a psychologist or other mental health professional on ways to help you feel better, think clearer, and do the things that you want to do. Psychotherapy can help make the changes you want in your life and it can help you deal with problems like poor sleep, pain, or stress. Antidepressant medications treat depression by fixing the balance of chemicals in your brain. People with SCI/D can be sensitive to the side effects of antidepressants so it is very important to discuss treatments with your SCI doctor.
Do You Have Thoughts About Suicide?
If you or a loved one has thoughts about death or suicide, call 911 or the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) and press 1, or use other emergency services. Or you can chat with a trained counselor online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net.
Resources to Learn More
To learn more about depression and other SCI issues, go to www.mentalhealth.va.gov/depression.asp.