It's not just physical
Suicidal thoughts are three times as common in those living with a spinal cord injury in the UK, according to new research
And yet, it’s estimated that only one third of people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI) are getting access to mental health support, and of those, 68% do not feel that support services available are able to meet their needs.
These alarming statistics are taken from our report, ‘It’s not just physical’ which we present to parliament today. (17 November) This report shines a light on the mental health problems faced by SCI people in the UK today and is based on research undertaken with our members by ourselves and the Universities of Reading and of Buckingham.
We’re calling on the NHS, government and other health policy makers to provide better mental health support services for SCI people – and their unpaid carers – as a matter of urgency. Nik Hartley, our CEO highlighted:
“We are at risk of failing thousands of people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury. Our new report highlights that psychological damage caused by a SCI is, at best, considered as an afterthought, and at worst, completely ignored by the medical profession. We need urgent action and for services to be sufficiently specialised to support the thousands of people living with this type of injury before it is too late.”
Here are some of the results based on the answers our members gave in our survey and interviews:
28% of people living with a SCI experience suicidal ‘ideation’ – frequent thoughts or ideas about committing suicide
47% of people living with a SCI reported experiencing mental health problems in one or more of the assessed mental health conditions
68% of people living with a SCI who accessed NHS psychological support have stopped because it was either “not appropriate for their condition” or “making their condition worse”
We are thankful to our members for their honesty in sharing their experience of mental health issues and to Changing Ideas for funding the report. Changing Ideas, is a charity set up by SIA donor David Graham that focuses on addressing social injustice, human rights and helping the most vulnerable within society.
Everyone has their own experience of spinal cord injury and here, our member Donna and Gary, our support network manager, share their stories of the profound affects that sustaining their injuries had on their mental health and well-being and on that of the people close to them.
What comes next?
Dr Katherine Finlay, who led the research said:
“The results are both shocking and unsurprising, showing that people with SCIs are more likely to experience clinical anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and are at greater risk of suicide ideation. Mental ill health is a hidden epidemic amongst people with chronic illness and injury, and these results demonstrate how prevalent such issues are.”
The NHS Long-term Plan sets out an ambitious commitment to continue to transform mental health care in the UK, with an approximate £2.3 billion a year being ringfenced to support an additional two million people requiring mental health support. Through the launch of ‘It’s not just physical’ we hope that as part of this commitment, specific focus will be given to the thousands of people suffering with the ongoing consequences of a SCI.
Based on the ﬁndings of this report, SIA will commit to:
- Increase its specialist counselling service to provide triage and one-to-one support (online or by phone.) SIA currently employs one BACP-qualified counsellor. Our counsellor, Ian Younghusband, is spinal cord injured, and has been tetraplegic since 1998. In his first year, he provided counselling for 57 SCI people, via 375 sessions. The service is currently available four days a week. Our initial ambition is for more qualified counsellors to be available to support SCI people seven days a week.
- Create a bursary scheme to encourage SCI people to qualify as counsellors and join our team. The success of our first peer-led counselling service shows that service users truly appreciate being helped by someone who understands what they are experiencing. The scheme will run a pilot programme to develop a cohort of trainee counsellors to support calls to our national helpline, as part of their 100 hours of practice requirement.
- Offer more mental health support for the family and friends of SCI people, expanding it to include peer support and regional support networks as part of the follow up from counselling.
- Help more SCI people and their families get access to mental health support from the NHS, healthcare planners and policymakers. A mental health advocacy worker will act as a voice for SCI people and their families when needed, and be able to recommend useful organisations, advice lines and other resources.
- Commission further research into testing interventions which will help SCI people manage their mental health symptoms. These include cognitive behavioural therapy, eye-movement desensitisation processing, acceptance and commitment therapy and mindfulness.
The report was funded by Changing Ideas, a charity set up by SIA donor David Graham that focuses on addressing social injustice, human rights and help the most vulnerable within society.