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Depression after Spinal Cord Injury

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What do I need to know about depression after a spinal cord injury?

Depression may happen right away or develop weeks or months after the injury. You may be very sad and grieve for the way your life was before the injury. You may be angry and blame yourself or others for what happened. You may have a hard time adjusting to being dependent on others for your care. You may also be sad or depressed because you are not able to do the things you enjoy. Some medicines that you take for this injury or other health problems may also make you feel depressed.

How is depression diagnosed?

Other people may see changes before you see or feel them. Your healthcare provider will ask about your depression. He or she may ask if you have felt depressed every day for at least 2 weeks. He or she may diagnose depression if you have at least 4 of the following:

  • Appetite changes, such as being more hungry or less hungry than usual, or gaining or losing weight
  • Changes in sleep habits, such as trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Waking in the night or early in the morning, or sleeping too much or feeling sleepy all day
  • Feeling tired or having less energy than usual
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or withdrawn
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless, and discouraged, or guilty all the time
  • Trouble concentrating and remembering things, or trouble doing daily tasks or making decisions
  • Thoughts about hurting or killing yourself

How is depression treated?

  • Therapy is a way for you to talk with healthcare providers about how you feel. This can be done alone or in a group. It may also be done with family members or a significant other.
  • Medicines may be given, such as antidepressants or other medicines to decrease or stop the symptoms of depression. You may need to take antidepressants for several weeks before you begin to feel better. Do not stop taking antidepressants unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Healthcare providers may try a different antidepressant if one type does not work. You may need to take antidepressants for up to 1 year. If you have had more than 2 episodes of major depression, you may need to use antidepressants longer.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Spinal Cord Injury Association
    1 Church Street, Suite 600
    Rockville , MD 20850
    Phone: 1- 800 - 962-9629
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 6200, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:

The following resources are available at any time to help you, if needed:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
  • For a list of international numbers:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You are not able to cope with normal daily activities.
  • You think about killing yourself or someone else.

When should I call my doctor or therapist?

  • You cannot eat or you are eating more than usual.
  • You are not able to sleep well or you are sleeping more than usual.
  • You feel anxious, restless, angry, or you have a panic attack after starting antidepressant medicine.
  • You feel that you are becoming depressed again after starting antidepressant medicine.
  • You cannot make it to your next visit.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.