Why it's important to protect your mental health after injury

Katherine McCallum
Sep 4, 2020
min read
People comforting each other

When someone is injured, especially in a serious way, they’re often unable to participate in their life as much as they did beforehand.

Missing out in this way may cause emotional suffering, which, in addition to any physical pain, can put people at an increased risk of mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

Accidents and injuries themselves also often lead people to experience post traumatic stress symptoms (and sometimes full scale PTSD).

Whether the injury happened at work, or on the road, managing it is tough enough without having to also confront the stress that often accompanies it. So in this blog, we discuss how to protect your mental health following an injury.

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

How an injury might affect your mental health

If your injuries have had an impact on your ability to work or engage in your life, then it’s highly possible that you may experience a shift in your mental health.

This could be for many reasons: the psychological distress of pain, the injury’s impacts like reduced mobility, or the time spent in hospital.

  • Reduced movement makes it hard to even leave the house, or socialise, and you may feel like you’re losing your social connections.
  • Some people get depressed because their injury is so severe, they may never recover.
  • Others develop PTSD from the trauma of the injury itself, such as nightmares reliving the event, and experience feelings of anxiety like a tight chest, or obsessive thinking and checking behaviour.
  • Many also get worried and stressed about their financial situation.

While there is limited data on the prevalence of trauma reactions in Australia, international studies of psychological morbidity of people injured in motor vehicle accident found rates of depression up to 67%, anxiety up to 87% and PTSD almost all the time.

If you’ve never experienced changes like this before, it could leave you feeling helpless.

It’s important to note that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone whether their injury was severe or minor. But it’s also worth remembering that not every seriously injured person developed PTSD, and not every person with minor injuries escapes without mental suffering.

How poor mental health might affect your recovery after injury

One in five people will experience mental illness in their lifetime. And whether you’re injured or not, poor mental health can affect various aspects of your life.

If you are injured, however, it can be particularly harmful to your recovery.

Studies show psychological morbidity predicts injury outcomes. In other words, there’s no question that the state of your mind can dictate how quickly you recover from a physical setback.

The poorer your outlook and the more psychological stress you’re under, the more flawed your healing period will be, and you could suffer increased risk of infection or complication and lengthened hospital stays, which could also magnify your discomfort and slow your return to your usual activities – including your job.

Returning to work as soon as possible after an injury is itself proven to help you have better long-term health outcomes.

Studies also suggest that a lack of support post-injury could prolong the threat of the injury (even those that are minor).

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

How to protect your mental health following an injury

Dealing with the emotional effects from a physical setback can be a challenge. There’s a tendency to wonder “why me?” and to think “if only I had done XYZ differently…”

As cliché as it sounds, one of the most powerful steps you can take is to keep a positive mind (and as hard as that may be), because having a positive outlook helps with healing and fastens recovery time.

Other ways you can try to keep a positive outlook include:

  • 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.
  • Some self-guided techniques for wellbeing can also be helpful; whether it be reading, mindfulness, journaling, goal setting or meditation.
  • Get your support network around you and let them know you’re going through a rough patch and keep the lines of communication open. A Safe Work Australia reports states that good support is important for recovery after a psychological injury and return to work rates.
  • 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.
Depressed lady with hand in head in bedroom
Seek assistance if your are showing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Photo: iStock

The takeaway

As you can see there are many different reasons why people may develop mental health problems following an injury. Identifying any potential mental health concerns before they become a problem is key to your future health and wellbeing (whether you’re injured or not)

If you’re recently suffered an injury, or know someone who has, and are experiencing feelings of anxiousness, depression, PTSD, or any other mental concerns, know that you’re not alone. Help is available to you.

Mental health services

Lifeline (24/7)
13 11 14

Beyond Blue (24/7)
1300 224 636

MensLine (24/7)
1300 78 99 78

1800RESPECT (24/7)
1800 737 732

Griefline (6am-midnight)
1300 845 746

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