It’s normal to be affected by stress, anxiety, depression or another kind of mental health issue after an injury.
The trouble is that too many people are worried about talking about it and are, as a result, missing out on the treatment they are entitled to.
As a medical broadcaster and experienced GP, I’ve helped a great deal of people get their lives back on track after a serious accident and encountered so many fantastic healthcare professionals along the way.
We aim to provide the most useful advice for recovering from an injury both physically and mentally and I would like to share some of our best practices with you here – here’s what you can do to help your mind during the recovery process.
1.Ladder up on your goals
One of the most common practices for GPs to undertake with injured patients is to help them stagger their recovery process by laying out stage-by-stage goals for them to achieve.
If you injured your legs or your hip in a car accident, for instance, you might find it tough to move like you did before. Rather than trying to run before you can walk, it works really well to take your time.
Attempt 10m before you go for 100m; get your body slowly used to moving again and you’ll find it much easier to cope with the little wins in your mind.
Unachievable goals only result in demoralised minds.
2.Accept that it wasn’t your fault
When you’re suffering mentally after a physical accident that was someone else’s fault, it can be extremely difficult to not feel some level of guilt or fault for it yourself. This is especially the case when you have to take time off work and you struggle to provide for your family as a consequence.
As GPs here to help you in these cases, it’s our best practice to help you break the accident down to understand exactly what happened and whose fault it really was, so you don’t unnecessarily feel like you’re letting anyone down.
It often helps to imagine other scenarios in which someone was injured through no fault of their own and then relate it back to yours.
Mental health issues can feel all-encompassing sometimes, so it helps to consider someone else’s point of view whenever possible.
3.Reframe the experience
An accident can often leave you feeling worried or scared about certain situations, such as getting back into a car or onto a bike after an incident on the road. That’s entirely natural and nothing to be overly worried about.
One way to deal with those feelings is to make a list of the positives that can come out of such a scenario. Try to imagine the freedom that a car gives you in the long term as opposed to the initial worry you experienced during the incident.
It might also help to practise things like mindfulness techniques, such as yoga, meditation and even journal writing. They can help your mind through a difficult recovery period by allowing you to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.
4.Don’t be afraid to open up
Sometimes, talking about the way you’re feeling is the most important element of the recovery period.
It might feel like it’s easier to keep it to yourself – the feeling of being a ‘burden’ on others is a very common occurrence – but it actually makes it tougher in the long run.
Your mental health can go from bad to worse if you decide to keep your feelings to yourself, so I always encourage my patients to open up about what they are going through.
More often than not, the exercise of sharing the experience of an unexpected accident can help immensely – it can go from being an all-encompassing, overwhelming trauma to a shared appreciation and understanding of the actual effects of the accident.
No-fault injuries can cause immeasurable shock, concern and fear in an individual and their loved ones, which can severely impact on their sense of self and awareness of the real world around them.
By opening up about it, you can avoid falling into the trap of letting the accident and its effects consume you and ensure that you give yourself the best chance of looking after your mental health in the long term.
The lasting psychological effects of a physical injury
The impact of an accident that affects your mental health as well as your physical health can be even greater if you don’t get the help you need – and we see that all the time in our surgeries.
Whether it’s a case of someone not knowing that they can ask for help with their recovery or, worse still, being afraid to do so, it’s a worry for all concerned.
That’s why I always say it’s important to know that it really is OK to ask for help when you need it. This old-fashioned idea that, unless you can see an injury, it’s not worth talking about is completely old hat.
It’s very difficult to forget about those negative thoughts, but they’re there and, unless they’re addressed, they’ll linger. The physical injury and the mental health issues that come with it are somehow inextricably bound together.
We know that mental health has been stigmatised for so many years, but we are hearing people talking about the importance of our mental health in conversation more and more these days, which is brilliant.
With the right help, everyone can feel mentally strong and well after an accident. It’s their right to do so by seeking the help that is available from their GP, so nobody should feel like they are on their own in the aftermath of an accident.
This article by Dr Hilary Jones is part of the Make It Right campaign by National Accident Helpline, which is running in collaboration with Dr Hilary and five healthcare professionals to raise awareness of the unseen effects of physical, no-fault injuries.