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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Hope After the Hit: Combating Depression After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Posted By: Advancing Care

Medically reviewed by Stephen Ferrando, MD

The aftermath of a head injury can extend beyond physical symptoms. Even after the body heals, some people may experience a shift in their emotions and battle persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest and a lack of motivation — all hallmarks of depression.

The good news: Effective support systems and professional help are available to manage depression after traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Combatting Depression Following a Traumatic Brain Injury

Here are just a few ways to get help:

  • Seek professional help: A mental health professional can diagnose and treat depression by offering support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other effective strategies.
  • Prioritize self-care: Ensure adequate sleep, a healthy diet and regular exercise (as cleared by your doctor) to support both physical and mental well-being.
  • Avoid isolation: Prioritize face-to-face interaction—find quiet meeting spots if crowds are overwhelming or join local support groups aligned with your interests.

Understanding the link

TBI disrupts the brain's delicate balance, impacting chemicals crucial for mood (leading to depression symptoms) and areas responsible for managing emotions (hindering emotional regulation). These changes, coupled with potential cognitive struggles and the inability to enjoy past activities, can negatively impact self-worth and contribute to depression.

Recognizing the signs

This connection between TBI and depression is a well-established phenomenon. Studies reveal that nearly half of all people who experience a moderate to severe TBI develop symptoms of depression within the first year.

If you suffer a head injury, be aware of the signs of depression, which can include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

It's important to understand that developing depression after TBI is not a reflection on a person's character or strength — it's a common consequence of the physical injury to the brain itself. While the risk of depression following TBI is significant, not everyone who experiences a head injury will develop this condition.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8. To schedule a consultation with a WMCHealth primary care physician at a location convenient for you or to learn more about the mental health services that WMCHealth provides visit WMCHealth Physicians and Bon Secours Medical Group.