Young man with limb loss having physical therapy.

Coping With Limb Loss and Its Effect on Your Mental Health

You don’t have to make this journey alone. If your mental health is suffering after limb loss, reach out to access the programs and resources designed to support you.

Whether it occurred from a severe injury, a blast, a disease such as diabetes or an infection, the loss of a limb requires intense physical work to relearn skills and manage pain. But what about the impact on your mental health? Disabled American Veterans (DAV) reports that amputees have higher rates of comorbidities – two or more illnesses or conditions at the same time – than other people. That includes mental health disorders.

It’s common for people with limb loss to experience a wide range of emotions such as grief, anger and depression. Discovering coping strategies to help you manage the impact of limb loss on your mental health, as well as learning what resources are available to support you, are important parts of your rehabilitation.

Mental Health Impact

After the loss of a limb, your main focus may be on the important physical rehabilitation process. The most pressing issues may be managing pain or relearning daily physical tasks such as picking up a pen, holding a cup of coffee, walking or getting to the bathroom. But at the same time you’re working on your physical rehabilitation, you may also be experiencing a wide range of mental and emotional health challenges. According to research by the National Library of Medicine, the loss of a limb often causes complex grief, anxiety, depression and other mental health-related challenges.

You may be angry this happened to you. You may grieve for the future you once imagined for yourself. You may have a hard time adjusting to your new physical appearance. All of these reactions are part of the impact limb loss can have on your mental well-being.

Everyone’s experience with limb loss is unique, and everyone will react differently. Here are some emotions you may have after experiencing limb loss or amputation:

  • Injured veterans talk with each other during a group therapy session.You may feel it’s unfair you’re going through this.
  • You may blame others, including the people around you, God or yourself.
  • You may feel guilty that you survived the incident that injured you and the people around you didn’t.
  • You may feel hopeless and depressed like there’s no point in moving forward.
  • You may refuse help and lash out at anyone who tries to assist you.
  • You may feel an overwhelming sense of grief for what you’ve lost.

Additional research done by the National Library of Medicine found that all of these emotions, like anger, guilt and depression, are normal and common for people dealing with the loss of a limb. There is no shame in experiencing any of these feelings. It doesn’t make you weak or less of a person. Recognizing these difficult emotions and acknowledging them can help you begin to cope and move forward.

Coping Strategies

Since everyone’s experience with limb loss is unique, your coping strategies will be distinctive as well. When you’re ready, finding coping strategies that work for you are the only ones that matter. The suggestions below will give you a place to start.

  • Spend time with supportive friends and family. Even if you think you’d rather be alone all the time, spending time with those people who are supportive and positive can be helpful for your mood and overall mental health.
  • Set realistic and immediate goals. If you only think about how far away you are from where you want to be, you may get really discouraged. Instead, try to think about smaller, more immediate goals. Can I do something better than I did last week? Am I able to do an exercise or a task for a little while longer than I did last month? Keeping track of the progress you’re making can be very helpful if the big picture seems too overwhelming.
  • Focus on the positive. It’s easy to get bogged down by the negative emotions you may feel. To stay positive, make a list of things you can feel good about. Maybe it’s a small physical rehabilitation victory or a visit from a relative or a good friend. Keeping a positive attitude doesn’t mean never feeling down or upset. It’s helpful to think about the ways in which your life still has meaning.
  • Use meditation and mindfulness strategies. Breathing exercises and meditation can be done anytime anywhere to help reduce your stress and anxiety levels. Check out Mindfulness and Meditation: An Easy Guide for Getting Started for some tips.
  • Build healthy habits. While your life has changed, the goal of staying healthy doesn’t have to. Eating a variety of healthy foods can help you maintain your energy levels and boost your mood. Exercising – even if it’s in a totally new way – is an important part of keeping your body and mind in good health.
  • Create a daily routine. As you begin to figure out your new normal, set up a daily routine that provides structure to your day. When you have too much idle time, you may get caught up in negative thinking.
  • Find a purpose. Find something that motivates you or that gets you excited to get going each day. Maybe it’s a volunteer opportunity you can begin, a new hobby you can try out or a peer support group you can attend.
  • Get the support you need. According to research by the National Library of Medicine, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety are some of the leading mental health conditions diagnosed in amputees. If your own methods for coping don’t seem to be working, it may be time to seek additional support. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a wide range of mental health services ready to help you cope with your emotions.


Coping strategies are an important part of figuring out a path forward, but you don’t have to do the work alone. Here are some great resources designed to support Veterans facing limb loss.

VA’s Amputation System of Care

VA’s Amputation System of Care (ASoC) provides Veterans with specialized expertise in amputation rehabilitation. Each Veteran works with an Amputation Specialty Clinic Team, which is an interdisciplinary team made up of the prescribing clinician, a therapist with experience in limb loss rehabilitation and a prosthetist. This team will not only complete your prosthetic prescription and address medical conditions and rehabilitation needs but will also refer you for additional services to help you address the emotional and mental aspects of limb loss.

VA’s Whole Health Program

Through VA’s Whole Health program, Veterans can access whole health coaching and learn stress-reducing strategies that work for them. This can include activities such as tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, mindfulness and more. Check out these Veterans’ stories on how Whole Health helped them deal with a wide variety of mental health issues.

Peer Support

The ASoC also collaborates with the Amputee Coalition to offer an Amputee Peer Mentorship Program. This program pairs a Veteran with recent limb loss with a peer mentor who has the same level and type of amputation, providing the Veteran with a chance to speak to someone who can relate to the challenges they’re experiencing. In addition, the program offers support groups. A support group is a great place to share your experience, explore resources and learn how to move forward with people who can relate. To locate a support group near you, visit the Amputee Coalition.

Adaptive Sports and Arts

VA’s Adaptive Sports and Arts Program provides Veterans with opportunities for health and healing through adaptive sports and therapeutic arts. The program includes programs such as National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic, National Veterans Creative Arts Festival and more.

You don’t have to make this journey alone. If your mental health is suffering after limb loss, reach out to access the programs and resources designed to support you.

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