effects of physical injury on mental healthExperiencing an injury, especially a long-term one, is clearly not a pleasant experience. However, it’s fraught with more than just the physical pain and discomfort. When you have a severe injury to your body and are facing a long recovery process, your mental health can be affected.  It can be helpful to have some resources and particular tips on ways to support your whole self – body, mind and spirit – because the effects of physical injury on mental health are real. Without attention to the emotional and mental aspects of your healing process, the physical healing process may be prolonged.


4 Effects of Physical Injury on Mental Health

1. Your Sense of Purpose and Self Identity

For many of us, our sense of self-esteem and confidence is tied directly to the things we’re able to do. You may take pride in taking care of your household. If you’re a professional, you might be driven by your work. When you’re injured and unable to do many of the things you once could, it can lead to a lot of self-doubt. Finding self-confidence and loving yourself regardless of what practical use you provide is important.

When your sense of purpose and the way you see yourself is so closely tied to the activities you do in your daily lives, it is very easy to fall into depression when a physical injury affects our ability to function. It’s a good idea to add a psychotherapist to your recovery treatment team so that you have support in terms of examining your thoughts and beliefs around who you are without those daily activities that you have felt defined you. Adjustment disorder is sometimes referred to as situational depression. A qualified, licensed mental health professional can provide therapeutic interventions to help you navigate the flood of difficult emotions you may be experiencing.

2. Your Financial Health

The financial costs of an injury can impact your mental health. Aside from the costs of treatments, there are also the loss of income from being put out of work. Many people are one bad accident away from a financially precarious situation. Even in cases where individuals have long-term disability insurance, a denial can immediately plunge them into high risk of debt. If that is happening to you, don’t hesitate to call a lawyer now. In many cases, insurance claim denials can be appealed but often having legal representation is most advisable. When my vehicle at a full stop was rear-ended by someone at full speed, I incurred injuries that have required years of ongoing treatment, many of which are not covered by my medical insurance policy. I would never have been able to afford those treatments without the aid of a good attorney. 

Just as you should call upon a licensed mental health professional to help you with the emotional and mental impact of your recovery process, you need to call on a legal professional when appropriate to the situation to see if there are any means of recouping expenses incurred as a result of an accident you may have been involved in.

3. The Opportunity Cost

One of the causes of depression following an injury is the idea of missing out on what you would otherwise be achieving. Injuries can become real roadblocks between you and your goals. And the reality may be that there are some goals you’ve had that you may never meet because of the physical injury you have experienced. Learning to contextualize your progress and your goals to your individual experience can help you gain some perspective and give you healthier, more realistic aims in future.

Grieving the slow down or the loss of the progress track you were on before he injury is something you can process in your psychotherapy with a mental health professional. Additionally, you can look to what you CAN do while you are recovering. Maybe this recovery period actually forces a time of slowing down allowing you to write a book about your area of expertise or to develop a personal meditation practice you’ve always wanted to have. Reframing this from the perception of lost opportunity to new kind of opportunity is a valuable cognitive restructuring process.


4. Living With and Recovering from Trauma

It’s not true of all kinds of injuries, but post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a serious risk. Outside of military veterans, two groups of people who are most at risk of PTSD are those who have suffered a violent assault and those who have been in automobile accidents. Recognizing the symptoms of PTSD, such as panic attacks, feelings of high alert, reduced tolerance to noise and the like are important. 

When you experience a severe injury, there is often a trauma experience that literally changes the way your brain processes information. The memory of the details of the moment the injury occurs will be seared into a particular memory area of the brain called the hippocampus. You can experience triggering events that will bring that memory so clearly into awareness it can feel as if you are re-experiencing the traumatic injury event. PTSD can be treated with various therapeutic methods but one that has proven effective is called EMDR provided by a licensed and specially trained psychotherapist.

Talk with your primary healthcare provider if you think you’re starting to suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, or chronic stress as a result of your injury or otherwise. Build a treatment team that includes your medical doctors, a physical therapist, a psychotherapist, and other professionals as needed.