Brain Injuries and Severe Depression Risks
Many of us know that traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can have serious physical effects on a victim’s body. But can serious head trauma also have drastic psychological effects? A recent article in NPR discusses the link between TBIs and depression, and the ways in which head injury victims in the armed forces may be at particular risk.
According to the article, many soldiers do not know that they have suffered a traumatic brain injury. For example, Sgt. Ryan Sharp, who served two tours in Iraq in the U.S. Army, returned home and began experiencing signs of severe depression. He attempted to commit suicide and expressed suicidal thoughts to his family members. However, Sharp did not remember having conversations regarding suicide with his family members nor his suicide attempts.
Sharp eventually was diagnosed with a TBI—but 10 years after he actually sustained the injury. He had been living with the effects of his brain injury for a decade before receiving treatment. He is not alone. According to recent estimates, about 300,000 members of the armed forces have been diagnosed with TBIs since September11, 2001. Many more may have sustained these serious injuries but have not yet received a diagnosis or proper care.
Understanding Traumatic Brain Injuries and Depression
If you suspect that a loved one has suffered a TBI, it is important to understand the link between head injuries and depression. According to the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC), the definition of depression is a “feeling of sadness, loss, despair, or hopelessness that does not get better over time and is overwhelming enough to interfere with daily life.” Depression typically lasts for more than a couple of weeks, and its signs and symptoms include some of the following:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of interest in usual activities or pleasurable activities
- Changes to sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty with concentration
- Lack of energy or general lethargy
- Withdrawal from others, especially loved ones
- Any thoughts of suicide or death
After a TBI, depression is a common issue. Indeed, about 50 percent of TBI victims experience depression within the first year after their injuries, and about two-thirds of all TBI victims experience depression within seven years after sustaining a head trauma.
What aspects of a head injury can lead to depression? According to MSKTC, depression after a TBI varies drastically from person to person, but it is often caused by one of the following:
- Physical changes to the brain because of the injury: when a person sustains a TBI, that injury can affect the parts of the brain that control our emotions, which can lead to depression.
- Emotional responses to a TBI: when a person sustains a TBI, it can be difficult to adjust to a disability connected to the injury, and the patient can become depressed.
If you or a loved one sustained a TBI and shows any signs or symptoms of depression, it is important to contact a medical professional. If you suspect that your head injury was caused by negligence, it is also important to discuss your case with an experienced brain injury lawyer. You may be able to file a claim for financial compensation.