Suffering a traumatic brain injury, whether because of a car accident, sports injury, fall, or otherwise, can be life-altering. Depending on the severity of the injury, a person’s entire daily life can be impacted. Their ability to function as usual, do their job, and fully take care of themselves can all be affected. Simple things that we take for granted, like reading a book without difficulty or using a smartphone without developing a headache, may not be feasible for a TBI sufferer. When life is changed so dramatically, it is not unusual for depression to settle in – but does the traumatic brain injury cause depression because of changes in the brain, or is the depression a side effect of a traumatic brain injury?
Increased Risk for Depression for TBI Sufferers
Research has shown that people who did not experience mental health problems prior to developing a traumatic brain injury have a significantly increased risk for depression. In fact, some studies have suggested that the risk of developing depression after suffering a TBI may be as much as two to five times higher than non-TBI sufferers.
Treating a Traumatic Brain Injury
While TBI rehab may include common denominators across the board – such as brain rest and avoiding alcohol – the rehabilitation treatment plan for someone who has suffered a TBI will be tailored to their specific needs. Depression may not kick in immediately, so the treatment plan will need to shift over time to accommodate a person’s health changes and levels of recovery. If depression does become evident, the overall course of treatment must address depression. Long-term recovery from a TBI may be insurmountable without acknowledging the presence of depression.
Which Came First – the TBI or the Depression?
A TBI causes problems with brain functions and can also cause any number of physical symptoms, from headaches to seizures, loss of coordination to weakness. These injuries can also trigger cognitive symptoms, such as mood changes, confusion, and memory loss. When a TBI sufferer experiences any of these symptoms, it follows that their quality of life will be affected, and their ability to take part in the activities they’ve always enjoyed will be stunted. Any separation from the norm and any restrictions from their passions can easily lead to depression.
Treating Depression Caused by a TBI
In the best situations, depression will be alleviated as the traumatic brain injury heals and the patient is able to get back to their normal daily life. It would be naïve to assume, however, that the depression will merely go away on its own. Traumatic brain injuries are a big deal, and they can change a person forever, even if they are ultimately able to overcome the majority of the side effects. Antidepressants and behavioral therapy may be necessary to aid in recovery from the depression while also recovering from the TBI.
Keeping Watch for Depression After a TBI
One of the biggest complications of TBI is depression that goes undiagnosed. Do not assume that a person’s changes in mood or behavior are “normal” side effects of a TBI. While depression symptoms and symptoms caused by a TBI can easily overlap or be mistaken for one another, it is absolutely essential to determine the cause and not assume the differences in a person are caused by the TBI alone. Treating a TBI and depression simultaneously is essential to a successful recovery.
David Christensen is a brain injury expert who represents victims that have sustained traumatic brain injuries. Christensen Law is a personal injury law firm located in Southfield, Michigan.