What You Need to Know About Brain Injury and Mental Health

person holding blackboard saying traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injuries range from mild, like a concussion, to severe blows to the head caused by firearms, vehicle crashes, and falls. A mild TBI may cause temporary problems with brain function, while more severe injuries can drastically change a person’s life or result in death. The symptoms a person experiences vary depending on the damage’s location and severity, but every head injury requires ongoing services from health care providers.

Since your brain helps regulate mood, emotional reactions, decision-making, and body functions, a traumatic brain injury can impact a patient’s mental health and physical health. Many people experience an increase in anxiety or depression or even personality changes that affect their lives and relationships. This blog will dive into how a TBI can impact mental health and give you some tools to help you cope.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

doctor looking over x-rays

A traumatic brain injury happens when a person’s head strikes an object, or something pierces the skull, entering the brain. Symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the severity of the injury.

Mild symptoms can include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue, behavioral or mood changes, memory problems, and issues with concentration, attention, or thinking.

Moderate to severe symptoms can include a mild injury and a headache that steadily worsens, nausea and vomiting, seizures, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in arms and legs, and increasing restlessness or agitation.

Research About Brain Injury and Mental Health

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), one in five patients who experience a traumatic brain injury will experience symptoms of mental illness up to six months following the injury. TBI patients commonly experience depression or Post-traumatic stress disorder due to a mild, moderate, or severe injury. The rates of PTSD are higher for patients whose TBI is caused by an attack than those caused by accident.

TBI patients commonly experience emotional changes after their injury for the following reasons.

man holding his head dizzy
  • A TBI affecting the area of the brain that controls emotions may impact how a person experiences and expresses feelings.
  • A TBI causing lifestyle changes can cause people to have difficulty adjusting to a decline in their quality of life after losing independence, change in employment status, or mobility.
  • A TBI affecting areas involved in cognition like memory, attention, thinking speed, and reasoning can cause a person to feel overwhelmed with daily tasks or interpersonal relationships.
  • Alcohol or drug use can exacerbate emotional symptoms, and the distress caused by the TBI is a risk factor for substance abuse.
  • People who struggled with mental health issues before a TBI may experience worsening symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

If you or a loved one experienced head trauma, it’s essential to stay aware of signs of mental illness and seek help from a health care provider as early as possible. The most common conditions reported after a TBI are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, and PTSD. Only a mental health professional can make an accurate diagnosis, but there are some symptoms of mental health problems you can watch for. If you or your loved one experience the following after a TBI, make a follow-up appointment as soon as possible.

  • Changes in sleeping habits- sleeping less or more than usual.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Not enjoying your favorite activities.
  • Isolating yourself from family and friends.
  • Reliving the trauma either while awake or while sleeping.
  • Inability to experience positive emotions.
  • Irritability.
  • Being easily startled or hypervigilant.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Impulsivity and self-destructive behavior like substance use or self-harm.
  • Agitation or restlessness.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

What You Can Do

Knowing that mental health problems could result from a TBI and that it’s a common occurrence can help people feel less alone, but that won’t solve the problem or help them return to a life full of joy. Here are some tips for patients and caregivers to address mental health issues associated with a TBI.

Remember This is No One’s Fault

Mental illness is not a character defect or a sign of weakness. It simply means your mind has difficulty processing stress, emotions, and daily living needs. You can’t fix mental illness by “getting over it” or being tough.

Take Steps To Reduce Stress

woman on man's shoulders

Getting help with daily chores and medical needs can help reduce stress as you recover. Cut back at work or school, and accept help from family and friends. Try new coping strategies such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or mindfulness practices to help your brain learn to regulate emotions again.

Validate Emotions

If your loved one suffers from a TBI and has trouble regulating emotions, it may help to give them a chance to talk about their feelings. They may have trouble labeling emotions, but give them time to explain how it feels in their body. If a loved one with a TBI acts out in anger, it’s best to walk away and tell them you’ll talk with them once they’re calm.

Seek Peer Support

Talking to people who’ve experienced a traumatic brain injury may help you feel less alone and develop strategies to help you cope. Find a support group, or reach out to your doctor for information about a peer mentor, someone who’s recovered from a similar injury. The Brain Injury Association of America has a registry of support organizations listed by state.

Medication, Counseling, or Psychotherapy

happy woman smiling holding a coffee cup

When you struggle with mental health conditions, it can be difficult to simply make it through each day without the added burden of recovering from a brain injury. To fully recover and improve your well-being, you must take care of your mental and physical health. While stress management and supportive friends and family can help, working with a counselor or psychiatrist can help ensure you’re getting the best mental health care possible.

At SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services, we have a large cache of dedicated therapists and counselors, and nurse practitioners on staff to help manage your mental health care. We provide counseling services for a variety of mental health conditions, manage medication if you choose to use a combined approach, and can even include your family and loved ones in the healing journey.Whether recovering from a mild head injury like a concussion or struggling to come to terms with severe neurotrauma, we can help you improve your well-being and quality of life. Our providers offer an empathetic and compassionate space for healing. Reach out today to schedule an appointment.

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