Depression can be caused by both physiological reasons and life events. As far as life events go, depression happens to be a very common side effect of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). What is important to remember is that feeling sad is normal, especially after the losses and changes that tend to follow TBI. However, when that feeling is prolonged and you are unable to enjoy the things you used to enjoy, you may have a more serious, medical problem.
There are plenty of other signs that you might be suffering from depression, beyond feeling hopeless or loss of interest in activities. People begin to feel worthless, guilty or that they are a failure. Their appetite and sleep habits change. They have difficulty concentrating. Some withdraw from others. There might be an overall lack of energy or excessive sleepiness. The most extreme warning signs, of course, are thoughts of death or suicide, at which point you should call a local crisis line, 911, the 24-hour National Crisis Hotline at 800-273-8255, or go to an emergency room immediately.
How does TBI cause depression?
That’s the big question. There are three primary factors that contribute. The injury causes physical changes in the brain. Certain areas of the brain contain natural chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which can cause depression. If the is the area injured, depression may result.
Others may become depressed from the sheer emotional trauma that follows traumatic brain injury. Adjusting to temporary or lasting disability alone is enough to cause a long-lasting impact on a person’s emotional and mental state. Losses or role changes within the family and society are also powerful blows to a person’s ability to cope.
If a person was already prone to depression, traumatic brain injury can only make it worse. Some are prone due to inherited genes. Others have a higher risk due to personal or family history.
What should I do if TBI leads to depression?
Just like the TBI that caused it, depression is a medical problem that requires professional help. You are not weak. It is not your fault or anyone else’s. Do not let anyone tell you to “toughen up.” Get treatment as early as possible.
The good news is that depression can be lived with. There is no need to suffer. The combination of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy treatments tends to be the winning solution.
How do I find help?
As far as mental health professionals go, there are psychiatrists and there are psychologists. Psychiatrists are doctors with specialized training in medication management. Some also offer counseling but that is where psychologists tend to come in. Psychologists do not prescribe medicine but they do offer many types of therapy. You will need to research to find the one best suited to you or discuss with your psychiatrist. If the mental health world seems alien or unfamiliar to you, you can even start with your family doctor. Eventually, it is best to get treatment from a comprehensive brain injury rehabilitation program that can address all aspects of TBI recovery.