It’s well known that a brain injury of any severity can be life changing, but many people who have experienced a traumatic brain injury are unaware that their mental health could be affected, even years after the injury occurred.
Emotional Problems vs. Mental Health Disorders
Far too often, emotional problems are confused for mental health disorders or vice versa. Although the two may be related, they are most likely separate issues and should be treated as such. When someone suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the way that he or she expresses emotions may change significantly. For instance, a young man who was known as being “laid back” and “calm” by his family, friends, and co-workers, may have display quick and exaggerated mood changes after he suffers a TBI.
This “emotional roller coaster” is called emotional lability, which is often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls emotions and behavior. An individual may exhibit almost “manic” type emotions from laughing to crying to having no emotional response at all or behavior much differently than they used to (prior to the accident). In most cases, due to the damage in the brain, the unexplainable and seemingly random actions or emotions cannot be controlled.
Undoubtedly, these emotional changes are frustrating for everyone involved, but in a majority of cases, the emotional unpredictability lessens over time, allowing the individual to resume to more “normal” expressions and emotions. Some emotional lability can be managed with medication and/or psychotherapy. Recovery time and results will vary for each individual.
Mental Health Disorders
According to a study, conducted by Danish scientists, a TBI can increase the risk of a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In the study, data was collected and analyzed from over 100,000 Danes who were born between 1977 and 2000 (a follow-up was conducted in 2010) and had been admitted to the hospital for a head injury. Of the study’s participants, approximately 4% were diagnosed with a mental disorder.
The study’s results reveals that individuals who suffer from a severe TBI, particularly between the age of 11 and 15, are 65% more at risk for developing schizophrenia, 59% more likely to develop depression, and 28% more likely to develop bipolar disorder. Like emotional lability, developing a mental disorder a within a year of a TBI is common, but unlike emotional lability, mental disorders (in relation to the TBI) can surface up to 15 years after the injury occurred.
Unlike emotional lability, there is no cure for mental health disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Keeping this possibility in consideration, individuals who have suffered from a TBI (and their family and friends) should closely monitor any changes in their mental state, even after life has seemingly returned to “normal”. While a majority of mental health disorders can be treated with a variety of medication and forms of therapy, it’s important for individuals to know that it may be a lifelong challenge.