By Ryan Rivera
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is as serious as it sounds. Some people are left disabled, others have lost memories, some people suffer from motor function issues – there are a number of physical consequences caused by these types of injuries.
Yet it seems that one of the most prominent issues surrounding TBI is the frequency of mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression. Roughly 20% of a healthy population experiences some level of mental illness. But for mild traumatic brain injury, that number jumps to 34%, and for moderate traumatic brain injury that number may be as high as 50%.
Mental health problems make the road to recovery far more difficult. Not only do these issues require long- term treatment on their own – they can also hurt the patient’s ability to motivate themselves towards recovery.
Physical Causes of Anxiety/Depression
Most mental health issues are caused by the effects of the traumatic brain injury, rather than the injury itself. But it is possible that the injury can damage the parts of the brain that control mental health. Scientists believe that damage to the front of the brain, especially, may play a role in increasing anxiety and depression, and any damage to the brain’s autonomic functioning may increase anxiety symptoms.
Furthermore, physical symptoms of TBI may emulate other mental health conditions and ultimately create them. Some symptoms of brain injury include fatigue, dizziness and difficulty concentrating.
These types of symptoms are often caused by disrupted blood flow and mild brain damage, and they are similar to symptoms caused by depression and anxiety attacks. Some research has shown a link between physical symptoms and mental health (in that if someone experiences physical problems that are similar to those suffered by mental health patients, the physical symptoms may eventually cause mental health problems) indicating that this may be a contributing factor.
Physical brain damage is not often the primary cause of depression and anxiety, but it does contribute to it.
Emotional Causes of Anxiety/Depression
Most researchers believe that it is not the damage caused by the injury, but rather the injury itself that leads to an increase in mental health problems. The reason for these include:
Fear – Fear is clearly one of the primary reasons that patients experience anxiety and depression. There is a fear that they may have received greater brain damage than they realize. There is a fear of experiencing this type of injury again. There is post-traumatic stress disorder (a type of anxiety disorder linked directly to traumatic events). There is fear over the changes that the accident has made to their lives. There is fear caused by forgotten/lost information as a result of the injury. All of these are examples of fear caused by TBI, and all of them lead to not only anxiety, but also mood changes, personality changes, and depression.
Mortality – The realization of mortality is another issue that commonly contributes to mental-health conditions. Brain injuries are one of the clearest signs that human beings are mortal. Acknowledging that mortality is unpleasant even for those in good health, and brain injuries tend to force this acknowledgement in a way few people realize or are capable of handling.
Damaged Relationships – Concussions, brain injuries, and the need to receive regular care can also damage relationships The first two are linked to agitation and a loss of inhibition, while the need for care places a burden on the caregiver. Regardless of the cause, anxiety and depression are fueled by a lack of social support, and damaging these relationships after a brain injury can increase the prevalence of mental health conditions.
While it’s possible that a brain injury can affect an area of the brain linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems, there are several emotional reasons that patients may respond to an injury with a significant increase in mental health conditions.
Final Note On PTI Mental Health Conditions
One final note, however, is that some of those that suffer from anxiety or depression caused by TBI may have already suffered from mental health issues before the brain injury occurred. Depression often causes drinking, which may lead to car accidents or falls that cause TBI. It’s possible that in rare cases, a person’s anxiety also distracted them from avoiding an injury. Not all of the increase in mental health disorder prevalence can be attributed to TBI alone. However, despite the cause, these issues will still affect recovery.
Treating These Conditions
Traumatic brain injury is a life changing event, and as a life changing event it’s possible that it can cause long term mental health conditions in those that experience them. Recovery from TBI is incomplete unless these mental health conditions are addressed, as they can affect physical recovery and reduce the patient’s quality of life.
Ryan Rivera is an outspoken supporter of improving the availability and importance of mental health care treatments. He provides articles relating to these disorders at www.calmclinic.com.