Mental Health After Brain Injuries, What To Expect

People who experience traumatic brain injury (TBI) respond and recover in different ways. In a significant number of people, there is no clear change in their mental health. For others, the injury can lead to mental health issues ranging from minor to very severe.

This Mental Health Guide gives you information about mental health after brain injuries and what to expect if you’re concerned about yourself or someone close to you.

The Brain Injury May Have No Effect

For some, the TBI does not cause any change in their mental health. That doesn’t mean they won’t have mental health issues. They may, or they may not. If they do, the cause can usually be linked to something else.

Psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison of the Emory University Medical School notes that many patients he sees attribute their mental health problems to a head injury. And in some cases, that appears to be the cause. But in the majority of cases, TBI is not the root cause of the issue. Raison notes, “Almost always when I dug deeper I’d discover that the person was showing abnormal thoughts or behaviors even before the head trauma.”

The point to be taken here is that if you had good mental health before the brain injury, it is certainly possible that you won’t suffer mental health problems in the future.

Brain Injuries May Lead to Mental Health Problems

Not everyone who suffers a brain injury is so fortunate. Traumatic brain injuries can result in mental health problems for many people who suffer them. With more than 1.4 million cases of TBI occurring annually, according to the U.S. National Institutes for Health (NIH), the harsh results for many have been called a “silent epidemic” which has been known to lead to a higher risk of attempted suicide.

Negative effects of TBI have been noted as far back as 1848 when construction worker Phineas Gage survived a TBI in which an iron bar penetrated his skull. Up to that point, Gage had been a responsible, well-adjusted adult. His physician noted that following the injury he became negligent, irresponsible and prone to rages.

Since that time, other mental health disorders related to TBI have been well documented. According to the NIH, studies reveal that up to 33% of TBI victims may develop depression while those without a TBI have a 7.5% risk of depression.

Mania is a second mental health issue that can develop as a result of TBI. The NIH reports findings that about 4% of TBI victims develop mania related to the traumatic brain injury. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) results from TBI in about 1.5% of those with brain injury. Post-traumatic stress disorder, psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, substance abuse and alcoholism and personality disorders such as apathy have all been linked to TBI, though in small percentages.

Where to Turn for Help

If you or someone you love has had a traumatic brain injury and is suffering from a mental health problem or personality disorder, talking with your doctor is the first step. Medical understanding of the effects of TBI including closed-head injuries has grown dramatically in the last decade. A physician can help you or your loved-one get the medical care and mental health care needed.