Often, brain injuries and mental health problems are seen and treated as two different separate issues. However, this is not true. The brain serves as the center of the nervous system, where all cognitive, psychological, emotional, and behavioral skills originate from. Hence if damaged, it could increase the risk of formation of a variety of mental health issues. A person with both a brain injury and mental health problem is said to have a “dual diagnosis”.
Research indicates that mental health issues particularly depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are typically formed after brain injuries, with some studies suggesting that it can be as high as 44% or in ⅕ individuals. Additionally, lower levels of education, and having a history of mental illness increase the risk of having mental illness disorders.
The type of head injury can be a contributing factor to the type of mental health illness. For instance, if the head injury was caused by an assault or other violent attacks, it could increase the risk of developing PTSD, but not major depressive disorder. The exact explanation remains unclear but there are a few hypotheses. It can be due to the inflammation and disruption of neurotransmitters caused by brain injury, revealed by studies, or head injuries destroying parts of the brain, affecting the control of a certain area, which causes the development of mental health conditions. Brain injuries could also affect neurotransmitters’ lack of ability to communicate with different parts of the nervous system. Another hypothesis is that since both psychological and emotional trauma are experienced, such as losing the capability to control bodily functions and abilities, they trigger a mental disorder. Lastly, mental health problems could arise because of the exacerbation of pre-existing mental health issues.
The longer the time following the head injury, the higher the percentage of people experiencing mental health symptoms. Three months after an injury, 20% of patients reported mental health symptoms and 8.7% of orthopedic trauma patients, in comparison to six months after the injury, where symptoms were reported by 21.2 % of people and 12.1 % of orthopedic trauma patients.
A number of professionals are involved in the treatment process including clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists, neuropsychiatrists, and mental health crisis teams.
While there is a misconception that brain injuries and mental health problems are seen as different issues, there are many ways that they are interconnected. Please seek medical attention if you experience any mental health symptoms after a brain injury.