Spinal injury patients ‘abandoned’ by NHS mental health services as a third of patients consider suicide

People with disabilities from spinal cord injury are ‘abandoned’ by the NHS mental health services, despite being much more likely to suffer from major depression.

Doctors and campaigners are now calling for urgent action as new data shows that a third of patients often think about suicide, but only a third have been given access to adequate mental health care.

The findings of the study, conducted by the University of Reading and the Spinal Injuries Association, were presented in parliament last week at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Spinal Cord Injuries.

The Mail on Sunday has heard of a number of harrowing cases, including a mother of two who was not offered treatment for depression after being paralyzed by an illness that destroyed her spinal cord.

Despite her struggles — and the fact that her 14-year-old son tried to commit suicide due to the stress of their situation — she said mental health was “never mentioned” by anyone to care for her.

Former Bournemouth teacher Donna Tuzul, 52, says there was ‘absolutely no mention’ of mental health support for depression after a nervous disease destroyed her spinal cord and left her paralyzed in a wheelchair

Another 25-year-old woman became paralyzed from the waist down in early 2020 after falling from a chair at work and falling with her back on a desk. suicidal thoughts’ before her GP gave a referral.

We also heard how a 19-year-old who lost use of his legs after a motorcycle accident became addicted to alcohol and opioid painkillers after not being offered mental support.

dr. Katherine Finlay, a psychologist at the University of Reading, said: ‘People with spinal cord injuries regularly experience clinical anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.

Mental illness is a hidden epidemic among people with chronic illnesses and injuries. The NHS must do something to address it.”

Experts say new guidelines should be drawn up as soon as possible, giving these patients immediate access to a specialist psychotherapist, as well as lifelong follow-ups.

Nik Hartley, CEO of the Spinal Injuries Association, said: ‘The mental health of these patients is an afterthought and completely ignored by the medical community at worst. We urgently need action.’

There are an estimated 50,000 people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury. Every year, about 2,500 people come on this list with a new injury.

The spinal cord communicates messages to and from the brain with all parts of the body.

An injury can interrupt these, leading to partial or complete loss of movement in parts of the body and thus can be life-changing.

Patients often require a wheelchair, suffer from pain and fatigue, and suffer from bladder, bowel and sexual function problems. As a result, many will require full-time care.

NHS guidelines state that patients with spinal cord injury should have a mental health check every six months for two years after their diagnosis, but experts warn this doesn't always happen

NHS guidelines state that patients with spinal cord injury should have a mental health check every six months for two years after their diagnosis, but experts warn this doesn’t always happen

The most common causes of spinal injuries are traffic accidents, falls, violent assaults, sports injuries, and domestic accidents.

NHS guidelines state that patients with spinal cord injury should have a mental health check every six months for two years after their diagnosis.

But dr. Finlay says this often doesn’t happen. ‘We often hear that these sessions are completely focused on physical health. Moreover, four sessions in two years is not nearly enough. These patients need lifelong, prompt support.”

Kathryn Hill, program director at the Spinal Injuries Association, says, “There is nothing to support these patients after a catastrophic life-changing event. They have to find out for themselves what happens next.’

Donna Tuzul, 52, says mental health support was ‘none at all’ after a nervous illness left her paralyzed in a wheelchair.

The former Bournemouth teacher was diagnosed in 2015 with cauda equina, a rare condition that compresses the end of the spinal cord and can lead to permanent nerve damage, after she was hospitalized with severe back pain.

“I was told by the time I got to the hospital it was too late to do anything. The surgeon told me I would be paralyzed even if I had the occasional surgery. I walked into the hospital and left three months later in a wheelchair.’

There are an estimated 50,000 people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury.  The spinal cord communicates messages to and from the brain with all parts of the body [File picture]

There are an estimated 50,000 people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury. The spinal cord communicates messages to and from the brain with all parts of the body [File picture]

Donna says her life has irreversibly changed. ‘At first I couldn’t even go into my kitchen because of the wheelchair. I couldn’t cook for my children, I couldn’t put them to bed.’

Before her illness, she lived an active life. The sudden change left her “in a very dark place.”

Her son, now 18 and then 12, began to self-harm. At the age of 14 he tried to commit suicide.

Despite this, Donna, who also has a 14-year-old daughter, says, “Mental health treatments were not mentioned by my doctors or caregivers who came to visit every day.”

Finally Donna asked for a therapist through her GP, but she says, “The therapist gave me breathing exercises but I didn’t, I needed someone who could understand what I was going through and give me practical advice.

“I needed someone closer to a councilor because I felt like I had lost my life.”

For confidential support, call Samaritans at 116123 or visit a Samaritans branch

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