Why It’s Important to Protect Your Mental Health After an Injury

October 22, 2019


Health and Recovery


Laura Dawson

Injuries can happen to anyone. When someone is injured, especially in a serious way, they are often unable to participate in their life as fully as they did prior to their injury.

‘Missing out’ on life in this way may cause emotional suffering, which, in addition to any physical pain, can put people at risk of mental health problems. 

If you have suffered a sudden and serious injury, then you are at an increased risk of suffering mental health conditions, including depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Managing your injury is tough enough, but when you add mental health concerns into your recovery, it can lead to more pressure on you. Pressure can make recovery a lot more complicated, because you may find yourself feeling emotionally drained or depleted.

If you have recently suffered an injury such as a work injury and are finding that you have been feeling down, or anxious; or are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD (difficulty sleeping, flashbacks, anxiety), then it may be the case that you could benefit from seeking help from a mental health practitioner.

Depressed looking worker
Those recovering from injuries can often suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Photo: iStock

I have been seriously injured and feel like my mental health is affected

In the case of serious injury, it is common for people to experience a massive change in their lives. Serious injuries can take place on the roads in a car accident or at work with a workplace accident. When you are seriously injured it is usually a sudden and potentially traumatic experience. As a result of this, you may be at risk of developing PTSD. Common symptoms of PTSD include reliving the traumatic event, and experiencing feelings of anxiety such as having a racing heart, or feeling constantly alert. 

PTSD is a form of fear response. The function of fear as an evolutionary construct is to protect you by engaging in defensive behaviours. Studies define defensive behaviours as things like avoidance, withdrawal, and immobility in conjunction with hypervigilance. Defensive behaviours evolved to keep us safe from predators, but when someone experiences PTSD they develop a disorder of heightened defensive behaviour stemming from exposure to trauma. PTSD can be a difficult and intrusive disorder to live with, but there are many effective treatment options available which can help.

Doctor looking at persons knee
After an injury, it's important to recover physically — as is taking care of your mental health. Photo: iStock

Someone who has been seriously injured is at risk of experiencing the symptoms of depression due to the change in their life. Depression is more than just feeling sad, it presents as an enduring low mood along with changes in a range of areas from sleep habits through to self-esteem and thoughts.

As with PTSD, there are treatments which are highly effective for persons living with depression, and there are practitioners who specialise in working with people suffering depression after an accident or injury. 

People who have suffered serious injuries may experience symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, tight chest, and or obsessive thinking and checking behaviour. It must be noted that anxiety is more than just ‘usual’ worry and takes the form of anxious feelings which cannot be brought under control easily. Anxiety is a condition which can be very difficult to live with. There are many forms of anxiety, and the symptoms can manifest in many different ways.

The impact of anxiety on the injured person, as well as on their family, can be significant. Even though the symptoms of anxiety can be pervasive, there are many effective treatments which can be sought. 

There are many different reasons why people develop mental health problems following a serious injury. If you are feeling down, anxious, having trouble sleeping, reliving your accident, or simply not feeling quite right know that this is a normal experience common to others who have experienced serious injury. It is empowering and effective to seek treatment from a practitioner who can help you get back on track with your mental health.

Depressed lady with hand in head in bedroom
Seek assistance if your are showing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Photo: iStock

My injuries were not very serious, but I still feel down

If your injuries have had an impact on your ability to work or engage in your life then it is highly possible that you may experience a shift in your mental health. Do not feel like your injuries are not valid just because they may not have been as serious as some other injuries; your lived experience and how your body deals with trauma and change is unique to you.

  • Minor injuries which impact on your ability to live your life and work can alter your mental health due to the change in routine or enjoyment.
  • Feelings of helplessness are common in injured persons, and this can lead to changes in your mental health.
Peter was shopping in a department store when he twisted his knee tripping on a piece of carpet that had not been fixed down properly in the changing rooms. Peter was unable to work for a month while he recovered and the store was found negligent and liable for his treatment and loss. Due to his injuries, Peter has been unable to go walking with his wife and dogs in the mornings or evenings, an activity he previously enjoyed and valued.

Lately, he has been feeling very flat and even though his knee has recovered to the point where he can take short walks, he does not feel like doing anything at all.

Not every seriously injured person develops PTSD, and not every person with minor injuries escapes without mental suffering. The point is that every injury, no matter how minor, can result in changes to your mental health. It is important to seek help when you need it.

Holding hands
Find people who are able to support you during a time of need. Photo: iStock

How to protect your mental health following an injury

Injuries from accidents have a lot of power over us mentally, because there is a tendency to wonder ‘why me?’ and to think ‘if only I had done XYZ differently…’ — but this kind of thinking can keep you trapped in the past. By dwelling on your injury or accident you are staying fixed on a painful point in the past, which can lead to mental suffering. One of the most powerful steps that you can take when you have suffered an injury and are in the process of recovery is to accept your situation.

It might sound trite, but when you look at your situation objectively and ask “What can I change?” you may find that the most powerful thing you can change is your mental state and your outlook.

  • Therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been shown to help people with psychological resilience following an injury. Your treating physician will be able to recommend a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist who specialises in this therapy if you are experiencing mental health concerns. 
  • Some self-guided techniques for wellbeing can be helpful, and whether this is reading, mindfulness, journalling, or meditation - you need to find what works for you. If you are on a road to recovery in terms of your physical state, techniques such as visualisation and goal-setting can be immensely useful. 
  • Get your support network around you, whether this is your spouse, loved ones, family, friends or colleagues. Let them know you are going through a rough patch, or that you need some support and make sure you keep the lines of communication open. Having someone to talk to about how you are feeling can be hugely helpful.
  • Seek professional help when you need it. Your GP will be able to provide you with a Mental Health Care Plan which allows for ten subsidised visits to a mental health clinician. This can be a great place to start, and also gives you the opportunity to discuss your concerns with your doctor.

There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that a healthy mental state can actually lead to a shorter recovery time. It has been shown that depression can slow recovery, which means that identifying mental health concerns before they become a problem is key to your future health and wellbeing. 

If you are experiencing any changes in your mental health that are causing you distress, difficulty, or worry then you need to know that help is available for you.

Laura Dawson

Laura is a QUT Law School graduate with extensive experience in legal writing and research for Smith's Lawyers on compensation topics.