Londoners’ experiences of life-changing injuries

Friends and social life after acquired disability or injury

People’s experiences of friendships and social life varied after their injury. Friends could be very supportive, struggle to understand, disappear or be replaced by new friends, often who had similar experiences. People’s social lives sometimes changed as things they used to enjoy doing, like going to nightclubs or pubs, were no longer appealing. Sometimes people continued to enjoy the same activities with the support of friends.

Some friends visited people in hospital or sent cards. They could be deeply affected by the injuries; Sam said his friends were “traumatised”. Friends sometimes offered support and encouragement by spending time talking to the injured people, some of whom were comatose.
After returning home from hospital, some people told us they did not go out much because they were still recovering from their injuries. They were often supported by family during this time, and did not see their friends very much. Spending a lot of time in hospital, rehabilitation and at home recovering led to people feeling isolated, but they didn’t realise how isolating the experience was until later when they returned to “normal life” (Louise).
Experiencing a life-changing injury can lead people to change the priorities in their social lives. Some people said they got tired easily, experienced a loss in self-confidence and no longer liked being in crowded places. Jane found she used the internet more to socialise on Facebook and social media, and others said they were happy to stay in. Some changed the activities they did since their injury, partly because of things they were no longer able to do. For instance, some people were discouraged from drinking, sometimes because they were on strong medication for seizures or psychiatric problems, or because of the effect alcohol can have on the behaviour of people with brain injury. People who used wheelchairs were initially reluctant to go to places that were inaccessible, and said they may have used this as an excuse to stay in. But, going out and spending time with friends helped them to get over this. Those whose injuries were caused by crime worried about going out because they felt the world had become more threatening and dangerous since their injuries.
A few people told us they were worried about how their friends would treat them after their injury. They talked about how important it was to be open with friends, and to joke with them. Wesley’s friends help him when they are out because they know about his brain injury and can explain to others, like bouncers, that he isn’t drunk. Friends could also be protective particularly early on in their recovery. Sam appreciated the support his friends gave him so much, he wrote to thank them all.
Some friendships “naturally fizzled out” (Jack) as people stopped working and socialising with work colleagues. People sometimes decided there were friends they no longer wanted to socialise with and Joe said he no longer saw his friends because he felt a failure. Being injured had made them realise they wanted to spend more quality time with the people who were most important to them. Jack said his injury had helped him to know who his friends were. Sometimes people also found that they lost friends after injury because they were unable to cope with what happened. This could be hurtful and they felt let down.
Money was also a factor influencing people’s friendships. People who were unable to return to work after injury lost touch with friends as they couldn’t afford to go out as much as before. And while insurance and compensation payments meant that some people were financially able to help out their friends from time to time, some friends tried to take advantage of them. 
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People generally felt positive about making new friends. There were opportunities to meet people through clubs they belonged to, at university or online. They became close to other injured people they had met in hospital or through support groups or day centres. But, Simon A thought it was difficult to make “genuine friendships” and Rob was having difficulty making new friends since he lost his sight.
Although there were things people could no longer do, they were still able to take part in a range of social activities with their partners and friends, including visiting family, going out for meals, going to gigs, the theatre, museums, football matches, the cinema. They felt they had lots of social opportunities because they lived in London. London’s varied and accessible public transport allowed them to be independent and have a social life that they may not have had if they lived elsewhere.

(See ‘Living in London’) 

Last reviewed October 2015.

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