Each individual is different, as are their circumstances, and people will respond very differently to seemingly similar situations. Amputation can be very stressful for family and friends, as well as the amputee. Not everyone ‘becomes’ an amputee. Some people, for example, are born without one or more of their limbs. Sometimes the person has been in pain for years, or the amputation might be a life-saving measure due to complications from disease or trauma. So, the circumstances surrounding the loss of the limb play a major role in a person's reaction, as does their personality and the amount of support he or she is getting.
Researchers have identified some common reactions to amputation in terms of grieving, although some people may react in other ways.
The amputee has lost a part of him or herself, a development which challenges a previously acquired body image. They have to learn to live their life with a different definition of themselves.
The new amputee will most often grieve for the lost limb and the old body image, and is thought to go through four or five stages as a part of their grieving process. This often resembles the way in which people usually respond to the death of a loved one or to being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. People do not have to go through these stages in sequential order, and they might even skip a stage.
Life events such as amputation, divorce or loss of a loved one, will leave us feeling temporarily depressed. This will happen to most people and is completely normal. It is therefore not uncommon for the new amputee to show signs of depression.However, there is an important distinction between feeling depressed, as we commonly understand it, and being clinically depressed. It is thought that a stressful situation can trigger depression for a person who is already sensitive due to biological factors. If the symptoms described here* apply to you or someone you know, please seek professional help immediately.
“Losing my leg hasn't stopped me from doing what I want, it just takes longer!” Sean Mizlo is a big Harley Davidson fan. He recently got back in the saddle following an accident in 2005 and won the 'Rehabilitant of the Year' award from Trinity Medical Center.
For most new amputees it takes time to come to terms with what has happened to them and why. It is important to hold onto the fact that over time, life will be and feel better than it does right now.
The stories of those affected by limb loss may offer much needed inspiration and it is a good idea to get in touch with a local peer support group wherever possible. Take a look at the role models who help test-drive our technology for some jaw-dropping evidence of what can be achieved if you’re fit enough and set your mind to it!
National Mental Health Association : What is depression
Kubler-Ross E., On death and dying (1970).
The Journey through adulthood: Bee, Helen. (1996)
Therapy for amputees: Engstrom, B., Van de Ven, C. (1999)