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Concerning rise in suicidal thoughts among people with spinal injury



The number of people with spinal cord injury who have said they have experienced suicidal thoughts has almost doubled in the last year, according to research.


The latest figures from the Spinal Injuries Association’s (SIA) ‘What Matters’ survey showed 28 per cent said they had experienced suicidal thoughts, a significant increase from 2023 when only 16 per cent listed suicidal thoughts as an issue that directly affected their mental wellbeing.Meanwhile, of the 70 per cent who said they had experienced mental health challenges in the past year, 39% said they had experienced suicidal thoughts.

Coming to terms with a life-changing injury has huge mental health challenges but, according to the charity, there has been an increase in those who are long-term injured simply struggling to access the vital specialist health and social care they require. This is negatively impacting their mental health and this worrying trend is reflected in the nature of the calls that the charity receives to its support line with many of those feeling desperate, claiming they have nowhere else to turn.

Although spinal cord injury can often lead to life-long paralysis and/or mobility issues, it’s the loss of sexual function and the inability to control your bowel and bladder in the usual way that are often the hardest things to come to terms with and this is why specialist care and support are vital.

Elsewhere in the survey more than half of people (57 per cent) thought the health and care system does not work for people with spinal cord injury and 42 per cent said they have had difficulty accessing routine and/or diagnostic tests in healthcare settings.

While, with the right support, people can live a fulfilled life following spinal cord injury, and many do, this latest survey from SIA shows too many barriers still exist. Barriers that block people with such injuries from easily accessing the help and support they need. Access to suitably adapted housing, specialist health and social care and sufficient welfare support are vital to be able to live an independent and fulfilled life.

Ruth Hunt, a journalist and campaigner for better mental health provision was eighteen when she sustained her spinal cord injury after a failed suicide attempt.

But years after, when she attempted to take her own life again, the main reasons were due to the lack of practical and psychological help she was receiving to cope with her new disability.

Ruth said: “It’s not just adjusting to life straight after an injury when mental health support is needed but throughout our lives. That’s because concerns about identity, confidence, and sense of purpose carry on long after the initial period following an injury. But such specialised mental health care for those with disabilities is extremely difficult to access.”

This is why SIA has introduced its own counselling and wellbeing service, with qualified counsellors who are spinal cord injured, but demand is huge. They are also sharing specialist expertise with the NHS and recently partnered on a pilot scheme in the Southeast to improve access to mental health services for those with spinal cord injury.

Meanwhile SIA are expanding the number of community groups for those it supports across the country. The charity says informal community-based support can be vital. One 35-year-old woman described how important this kind of group support is for her mental health and wellbeing: “Living with spinal cord injury means some days can be a fight just to get what you need to live your life and talking to others really helped me find some more strength when I couldn’t cope anymore. I have also made some good friends and we talk online all the time, when I am feeling low there is always someone who has experienced similar.”

Nik Hartley OBE, Spinal Injuries Association CEO said: “That such a considerable proportion of our community faces barriers to vital health and care services is appalling. Too many people with spinal cord injury still have to fight for the support they deserve and need, or risk going without. Spinal Injuries Association continues doing as much as possible so that the mental health needs of people with spinal cord injury aren’t ignored but as the figures from the What Matters survey show, improvements to mental health and other services for those with spinal cord injury is needed urgently.”