How a Traumatic Brain Injury Can Impact a Person’s Mental Health
- Increased Risk of Depression
- Higher Chance of Developing Schizophrenia
- Three-fold Greater Risk of Suicide
- Increase in Anxiety Symptoms
Traumatic brain injuries can be life-changing, and these five ways that traumatic brain injury can affect mental health have a lifelong impact. A person who experiences a traumatic brain injury may not have an immediately disastrous experience, and the symptoms can increase gradually over time. Understanding how a traumatic brain injury affects a person’s mental health allows families, friends and healthcare providers to be on the lookout for behavioral changes in the affected person.
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1. Increased Risk of Depression
People who have experienced a traumatic brain injury have a 59 percent increase in their risk of depression. In a Danish study of people who had one or more traumatic brain injuries, the risk of depression increased with the severity and number of traumatic brain injuries the affected person experienced. The symptoms of depression may not happen immediately after the brain injury, which could make it difficult for healthcare providers, friends or family members to recognize.
2. Higher Chance of Developing Schizophrenia
According to the same Danish study, a person with a traumatic brain injury has a 65 percent increase in their risk of developing schizophrenia. This mental illness is a breakdown in the connection between thoughts, behaviors, and perception of reality. A person with schizophrenia may remove themselves from reality and personal relationships and enter a fantasy or delusional world. Their thoughts and sense of reality become fragmented. People with schizophrenia have decreased concentration, poor memory, and disorganized speech and thoughts.
3. Three-fold Greater Risk of Suicide
People who have had at least one concussion have a three-fold greater risk of suicide explains Psychology Today. Although the study did not tally suicide attempts in people with traumatic brain injuries, it did find that deaths by suicide were three times greater in people who had a concussion at some time in their past. The researchers theorized that the concussion either altered brain chemistry or brain structure in a way that increased feelings of depression, despair, and hopelessness. Both males and females had an increased risk of suicide after a concussion.
4. Increase in Anxiety Symptoms
Generalized anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, are also more likely in people who have had a traumatic brain injury. The anxiety often starts soon after the brain injury. Not being able to remember what happened or losing memories of the incident is often a trigger for anxiety. People with traumatic brain injuries usually respond well to anti-depressants, which often help lessen the symptoms of anxiety.
Traumatic brain injury increases the risk of a person developing dementia. The physical damage to the brain may cause disruptions in the blood supply, inflammation or the development of plaques that promote dementia. In many cases, people with traumatic brain injury develop dementia at a much younger age than is typical. For example, professional football players have experienced diagnoses of dementia in their 30s after repeated brain injuries.
Even what appears to be a mild concussion can have lifelong effects. Repeated traumatic brain injuries, such as frequent hits to the head in football players, can have an exponential increase in the risk of mental health problems and brain disease. Knowledge of these five ways that a traumatic brain injury can affect mental health allows healthcare providers, counselors, family members and friends to provide the best possible level of care to the affected individual.