Emotional impact of SCI

The time after your family member has sustained a spinal cord injury can be very difficult and tiring, both mentally and physically.
  • It is important to remember to keep some time for yourself, this could be just ten minutes watching a TV programme or reading a book but it helps to take your mind off things.
  • It’s also important to accept help if it is offered. This could simply be a neighbour offering to post a letter or a family member offering to visit with your relative while you have some time to yourself.

“As soon as I found out that he was alive, nothing else mattered”.

Recognising and managing your feelings


Feeling sad about your relative’s injury is a perfectly natural and understandable reaction. The feelings of sadness may be about the nature of your relative’s injury, because you may not yet know the outcome. Alternatively you may feel a sense of loss, knowing that your relationship will inevitably have to change at some level and because of the impact on you and your family.

It often helps to acknowledge these feelings and to have the opportunity of voicing these emotions to another person. You may want to find a bit of space and time to think about the reasons why you are feeling sad. For example, it could be about the events surrounding the injury or, you may be reminded of some past event in your life which has brought back the same feelings of sadness.

Changes to one’s life sometimes happen when least expected and may leave you feeling unprepared and insecure. Sometimes however, change can actually bring growth and can help family relationships become stronger. A change of role can bring unexpected benefits to many people.


Being an observer, whilst a team of highly experienced and specialist staff look after your relative, may leave you with a feeling of helplessness and a sense that that there is nothing that you can do to help.

This can be very upsetting when you are very close to that person.

Although you may feel redundant whilst your relative is in hospital, it is likely that your presence at the person’s bedside will be a great source of comfort and support to them. Once their injury has stabilised and they are able to begin their rehabilitation programme, you can start to think about the future, together.


Some people feel a sense of guilt, imagining that they are in some way responsible for the injury sustained by their family member.

People often feel they could have done more to help their relative avoid the injury, “If only I hadn’t let him ……”.

It is not uncommon also for relatives to wish it was them that had been injured. 

In circumstances where two or more people have been involved in an accident together, where one individual has suffered severe injuries but the other person has been relatively unscathed, the non-disabled person may feel completely responsible for having survived the accident and in some instances feel strongly that it should have been the other way round.  These thoughts are very often illogical, but can be very intense for that person.

If you are in this situation, it may help you to think about who really is responsible for the problem.  What did you actually do to cause the injury? How in reality could you have prevented the accident/injury?


Anger is a natural response in times of tension, stress and frustration or when feeling a sense of injustice and helplessness about a particular situation.

Your angry feelings about the injury may be directed at yourself (through self-blame), at the injured person, towards a health professional or even towards God:

“Why has he done this to us? Why does it have to be our family?”

Most of the time if we get angry about a particular issue, we are able to resolve the situation, let go of the angry feelings in a constructive way and move on.

However, not everyone finds it easy to express anger and this can sometimes lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding between friends and family. You may find your injured relative is difficult to be around. You may not know how to react towards them, feel that you have done something wrong and then as a result may try and avoid them.

It is perfectly normal to react in a variety of ways, at difficult times.

Remember: The Clinical Psychology Team at the NSIC has a Family Counselling service – click this link for further information – and do contact them if you would like help or advice.