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PTSD, chronic pain, and the hidden impacts of serious injuries

Picture a spinal injury victim. Who do you see? A person in a wheel chair? A person who can no longer use their hands or who has difficulty walking? If so, you’re not incorrect: paralysis is one possible spinal injury outcome. But many spinal injury victims experience subtler, wider-reaching impacts, as spinal injury lawyers understand.

A March 2019 BBC article chronicling a woman’s recovery from a spinal injury illustrates the many ways that a serious injury can affect a person’s life. The injury victim, University of Bristol PhD student Bethany Hickton, suffered a compressed spine and three broken vertebrae when she fell on a wet staircase.

“I slipped and fell,” Hickton explained. “I missed a few steps and landed on the bottom of a flight of marble steps on my coccyx. As soon as I hit the floor I knew something was wrong.”

Hickton’s initial care was straightforward and effective. She was issued a back brace, prescribed pain medication, and discharged from hospital within days. Despite experiencing various physical limitations, Hickton progressed well through the first stage of her recovery.

Unfortunately, as spinal injury lawyers well know, the most challenging aspects of a victim’s recovery may not emerge until months after the accident. As the initial shock of the injury wears off, victims must come to terms with a troubling new reality, which can affect mental health. PTSD, for example, can be delayed until one to six months after the traumatic event.

“People often go into a phase of what they have to do to get better and it’s not until you reflect on how near a miss it was that it may start to lead to mental health problems,” Royal College of Psychiatrists PTSD specialist Neil Greenberg told the BBC.

For Hickton, this phase began when she went off her medication and began experiencing significant pain. She had trouble sleeping, was unable to travel, had difficulty focusing and self-motivating, and began to experience panic attacks.

“Everything stopped,” she said, “and that was really what shocked me.”

Mental health challenges are sometimes overlooked when injury victims are compensated for damages. It’s easy to sympathize with a spinal injury victim in a wheelchair; chronic pain and PTSD are far more difficult to grasp for people who have not experienced them.

Hickton eventually sought help from a counsellor and was prescribed anti-depressant medication. She also uses exercise as a form of therapy, and even discovered an unlikely love of weightlifting. It may be years before she fully recovers, but she has been able to return to her studies and is working to confront lingering fears associated with her injury.

At Will Davidson LLP, we understand that serious personal injuries can have long-lasting physical, mental, and financial impacts. If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to learn how our experienced team of spinal injury lawyers can help.

Image credit: The People Speak!/Flickr

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