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Reflecting on Mental Health Awareness Month

May 29, 2024 |

By Sean Samitt, CPhT, ASHP 

As we recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month I’d like to focus on some advice and reminders that have helped me throughout my own journey. A disclaimer: if you think you aren’t in the best of headspaces, that is okay. Things here may be triggering, so please be conscious of your needs.  

A little background on me: I became an “elective amputee” after three years and over thirty trips to the operating room for attempts to salvage my leg after a series of blood clots and a bleed led to compartment syndrome. I had a series of clots, bleeds, and infections after which eventually led me to my vascular team who have guided me through this process as have amazing amputee (and non-amputee) mentors, teachers, friends, and family. Prior to becoming an amputee, I have worked in pharmacy as a Certified Pharmacy Technician and Patient Advocate for an oncology service. My other specialties are in Critical Care/Emergency Medicine and Medication Therapy Management. I am also a Certified Lead Advocate with the Amputee Coalition. 

Reflections on mental health for the limb loss and limb difference community: 

  1. I’m really proud of you – and you should be, too. You have made it this far! This experience IS HARD. Full Stop. I’m only just over a year out and it is a struggle sometimes. Maybe a lot of times. Take a moment right here, right now to credit yourself for what you have accomplished. How far you’ve come. Remember that first day? Give yourself that pat on the back. You’ve worked hard. Remember that first day after surgery? Take pride in the “small” wins! Because before you know it, they add up to pretty big wins.  
  2. Pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia often go hand in hand. This has been a tough experience: physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. One thing I have learned in years of having Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) predating my amputation, my head has a pretty significant impact on my pain. If I am stressed, anxious, or frustrated my pain will increase. There is a large body of research that discusses the connection between mental health challenges and chronic pain, noting that when we look at someone’s brain in a functional MRI, pain and anxiety/depression etc. share biological processes and affect similar areas of the brain. It’s quite fascinating, and there are even some anti-depressants which are used to treat pain (as always – talk to your medical provider).   
  3. Leave the stigma at the door! Mental health is not an aspect of our lives which needs to live in a closet or be tucked away in a box. Mental health is part of your health. Your feelings are valid and there is no shame in reaching out to professionals for help. Seeing a trained professional – a psychiatrist, Psych-Nurse Practitioner, psychologist, therapist, counselor, or social worker is a great way to help you feel better, gain coping strategies and skills, and help you grow. Your family and loved ones might also benefit from this as well. We all have our struggles.  
  4. The journey we are on isn’t linear. When I first became an amputee, I thought, “I’ll be good once I get to the acceptance stage of grieving.” A year+ out and I still cycle through the phases of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And that is okay. We aren’t at 100% all the time. Moments of insecurity, frustration, and sadness are still there. Living life with limb difference or limb loss is full of ups and downs. As time goes on and you gain more experience and confidence you’ll learn and develop new skills and knowledge which help inform how you respond to this life change.  
  5. You don’t need to be an Amy Purdy, Trischa Zorn-Hudson, Jessica Long, etc. When I became an amputee, I was inspired by incredible athletes and often felt a second wave of depression or frustration when I would compare myself to their level of success and achievement. You don’t have to be them. Instead take their stories as a reminder that there are no limits – the world really is our oyster!  
  6. Connect with some friends, mentors, and family. Create your support team. Finding and connecting with a team to celebrate the small things, the big things, and for encouragement or support is so important. Knowing there are folks who will validate your feelings, appreciate you for who you are, and encourage you when the day may be a bit gloomy is so important. Connecting with other amputees is also so validating and refreshing. Knowing someone else has been there and done that has been eye opening for me and has made this process so much easier. 
  7. Find some escapes/hobbies. Having something to do, whether that’s finding adaptive fitness programs near you, heading to the gym, or volunteering is critical for your mental well-being. I am not the “gym” person – and going to my adaptive fitness class can sometimes feel like pulling teeth when my bed is so comfy! But I push myself to go. And by the time I’m done, even if I am exhausted, the endorphins really do help with the pain and depression. Taking care of yourself cannot be understated. Especially as we must depend more on what we do have left (arms, legs, your core, endurance) to live our lives. Pick up an instrument or learn a new one! Take up knitting or painting. Have something you can pick up when waiting for the never-ending doctor/prosthetist appointments or turn to if the pain is bad. 
  8. Develop a self-care routine. Maybe you have a morning routine, or a bedtime one. Take care of your body and mind, and they will take care of you.  
  9. Take pride in who you are. Wear a prosthesis with pride. Share your #WeThrive story when you are comfortable and join a support group if you feel up for it. You can even participate in advocacy efforts, such as becoming a Certified Lead Advocate to shine a light on our community and help make positive change.  

Also, if you cannot reach your support crew, if you feel lost, or are in need of help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available (in the United States) to provide free, confidential support 24/7. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). They also have a chat feature on their website at https://988lifeline.org. If you’re outside the US, there are similar hotlines available in other countries. 

Disclaimer: The Amputee Coalition does not endorse or promote any specific methods mentioned in this article. The information provided is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. It is always advisable to conduct thorough research and consult with your medical team before making any decisions related to medical devices or services.