Atlanta, GA,
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Caring for Your Mental Health is So Important, Especially When You Have a Spinal Cord Injury

By Jill Koval, Ph.D.
Director, Psychological Services, Shepherd Center Inpatient Spinal Cord Injury Program

Emotional ups and downs are a normal part of everyday life, especially as a result of the stress associated with changes in relationships, finances, health, employment and aging.

For people living with spinal cord injury (SCI), there are two major types of stress. The first is the immediate stress that occurs when the injury first happens. The second is the long-term stress related to the many changes and challenges resulting from SCI. How one copes with this chronic stress can greatly impact successful emotional adjustment.

So how can talking to a mental health professional help?

  1. The support of a psychologist/counselor can ease the transition from the rehabilitation setting, where the person with an SCI is in the majority, to one’s community, where there may not be others with spinal cord injuries.
  2. Talking with an objective professional allows a person to vent and say anything without worrying about the feelings, reactions and judgments of family members or friends.
  3. The likelihood of staying physically healthy is increased by avoiding unrecognized depression and anxiety, which can lead to neglecting one’s health and self-care.
  4. The risk of developing problems with alcohol, prescription pain medications and illegal drugs through “self-medication” is reduced when one is actively addressing issues related to grief, loss and life change with the help of a professional.
  5. Counseling can help you to learn more about your own personal strengths and how to use those to help with successful adjustment.
  6. Your family can learn more about how to help you in the adjustment process and understand their own adjustment, as well.

To find a mental health professional:

  • You can speak to your physician and/or a representative at your insurance company.
  • Some employers have an Employee Assistance Program, which provides access to mental health professionals at either no charge or a reduced rate.
  • To locate professionals who accept patients with Medicare or Medicaid, you can do an online search for your home area.
  • Finally, all states have psychological associations, such as the Georgia Psychological Association, that can provide referral information, as well.
  • For more information on psychological services available at Shepherd Center, you may call 404-350-7553.

JILL KOVAL, Ph.D., is the director of psychological services in the Spinal Cord Injury Inpatient Program at Shepherd Center in Atlanta. She has worked at Shepherd Center since 1989. Dr. Koval has a doctorate in psyhcology from George Washington University. You may reach her at

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.