Amputation and Your Mental Health

This year, Bell Let’s Talk Day will be in January 29, 2020. It is the largest single corporate commitment to mental health and mental health awareness to create a stigma-free mental health care.

Losing a limb is very devastating and causes significant disruption not only to the amputee’s life, but their family as well. Mobility challenges, participation in day-to-day life and independence are immediately affected. This can also change one’s job, career path, community and even relationships. Ongoing health issues including pain, other setbacks during recovery like complication, or issues that require further surgery, or discovery of other health issues. All of these can put a toll on someone’s mental health.

Below are some of the tips that could assist you in coping with your metal health and your limb loss journey:

Recognize your emotions

Shock, anger, frustration and sadness are all common almost immediately after amputation especially if it was a result of trauma. Recognize that these feelings are valid and it is normal to feel them. In fact, it is normal to feel them even long after your amputation. For example, tolerating wearing your prosthesis can bring about the feeling of frustration or anger because you feel pain when wearing it, or sadness when you look at your prosthesis because it looks so mechanical. Understand that these are feelings and emotions that is normal for what you are going through. However, don’t allow it to be the only emotions you feel in your recovery. Recognize when you are also feeling happy when family and friends are visiting. Allow close friends to visit. Isolation during these times quickly develops into depression. Recognize how good it felt chatting with them even for just a little bit. Many of these negative feeling go away eventually, but it’s good to recognize them upfront so that you can do something about them.

Address what you are feeling

One of the hardest things to admit to anyone, yourself, family or friends, is to admit how you are really feeling. Depression, anxiety, isolation and acceptance sometimes do not show clear signs that you’re experiencing them. It may be useful to discuss what you’re feeling with a trusted family member or a friend. Talk about when you suddenly burst into tears if you’ve experienced it. Talk about a dream or nightmare you had since your amputation. If you feel you are experiencing a form of Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD), talk to someone about it. Talk about something around you that seems to set you off or bring about anger. Admitting you experience these things can help your care team address what you’re feeling. Remaining undiagnosed will be your worst enemy during your recovery. There is no shame in admitting that you are experiencing depression or anxiety. Addressing them will be key to your healthy recovery. Request to speak to a professional or if you feel that you can’t directly ask, have your trusted family or friend speak to the social worker to request to speak to one on your behalf.

Self care

The initial stages of amputation is stressful. There are practical strategies including self-care that you should practice.

  1. Get a good night’s sleep. This can probably be the most challenging especially if your constantly woken up by pain (after surgery) or hospital noise especially if you are in ward. Practice good sleep hygiene. Find a few minutes to get ready for bed including getting your bedtime medication before you rest so that you don’t get woken up for it. Find a relaxing activity like reading a book or magazine to clear your mind. Practice breathing exercises to relax your body. Deep breathing is also good for your lungs’ health if you’re lying in bed for long periods of time after your amputation.
  2. Maintain a good diet. If you’re still in hospital, you’re probably not getting the complete balanced diet from hospital food. Ask a family member or friend to bring you food from home. This helps not only in your physical healing but a visitor can breakup your day in hospital.
  3. Find ways to exercise. Physical activities is important during recovery and long after you’ve been discharged from hospital. Maintain the exercises you learned while you’re in rehab. It will help strengthen the muscles you need when you start wearing prosthesis. Join a local mall walking group even if you’re still in your wheelchair if your arms are healthy enough to wheel yourself around the mall. Wheeling yourself engages your arms and your core and it is a good cardio workout. Find like-minded groups that do physical activities at your level. Not only will you be getting physical activities in, but you’re also getting back into the community.
  4. Practice mindful exercises. Get into the habit of meditation practice, breathing exercises, or even adaptive yoga. Sitting still and focusing on a simple object around you while breathing in and and out can ease away stress. Practice mindful awareness. For example: if you smell your favourite food, take a moment to stop and remember the good feeling or memory associated with it. When your think of a negative thought, take a moment to stop, label the thought unhelpful and release the negativity. Take occasional moments in your day to stop and be purposeful of your awareness of what you’re doing and your actions. Ask yourself it it is it helpful in your recovery and your life. If it is not, let it go.
  5. Find a support group in your area. Finding like-minded peers have been linked to improved overall well being and invaluable in your journey. Knowing there are others like you in similar circumstances, experience and situation with the same goals, provides a sense of community. It also provides a place to network to find activities in your area or things you can do together as a group together. It provides an opportunity to learn from one another about your experiences. And when you’ve been in your journey longer, it provides a place to mentor and help new amputees cope in their new life as an amputee.

Amputation and mental health almost always go hand in hand; whether your amputation was caused by trauma, prevention like a spread of an infection to other parts of your body, complications from other health issues like diabetes, and so on. Each of us experience different emotions when faced with limb loss that affect our mental health. Admission and acceptance of these feelings and emotions will probably be the hardest thing to personally do. But remember that there is no shame in admitting these feelings. The key is to accept that these feelings are normal and make them known so that they can be addressed in order continue with a health recovery and get back to your life.

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