October 1, 2023

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to many emotions and complex secondary effects. Any damage to certain brain parts, like the frontal lobe, can devastatingly affect the patient’s emotional well-being. In addition, traumatic brain injury can lead to various emotional problems.

How are brain injury and mental health different? 

Generally, brain injury and mental health are seen, diagnosed, and treated differently or confused as the same issue. However, both can be true. Sometimes, brain injury can be a completely separate issue to mental health, and other times, traumatic brain injury can cause mental health issues and emotional problems. 

‘Mental health’ refers to emotional, cognitive, and behavioral well-being. However, many physiological conditions, like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc., can happen in some people. Each of these conditions has characteristic emotional problems and psychological and behavioral effects that affect normal day-to-day functioning. 

In some cases, brain injury and mental health issues can overlap. For instance, a patient may have mental health problems before the TBI, and the injury magnifies those pre-existing mental health symptoms. The overlap may occur because all the emotional, psychological, and behavioral skills come from the brain. Both mental health problems and brain injury occur because of certain brain dysfunction. Certain areas of the brain control a person’s behavior or emotions. Any injury or damage to those parts of the brain can cause various psychological effects and issues, like anxiety, depression, anger, etc. Such psychological changes are common after a brain injury, and they can improve over time.

Can traumatic brain injury cause psychiatric disorders?

TBI can lead to changes in personality, mood, and behavior. Hence, psychiatric disorders after a TBI are very frequent. Both mild and moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injuries are linked with an increased risk of psychiatric disorders. However, mild TBI is often associated with persistent psychiatric disorders, while moderate-to-severe brain injuries are a higher initial risk.

Overlaps between brain injury and mental health 

Brain injury can cause mental health conditions in some patients due to damage to the brain, psychology of brain injury trauma, or changes in neurotransmitters. Some patients are diagnosed with a mental health condition following a traumatic brain injury. It is known as a ‘dual diagnosis, resulting in one condition’s intense impact on the other.

Diagnosing mental health after brain injury

If a brain injury is due to external factors, then it becomes apparent. Also, a CT or MRI scan shows abnormalities in a suspected brain injury patient. However, if there are no evident signs and symptoms of a brain injury, it can remain a ‘hidden disability’. In most mental health conditions, the patients do not show visible signs, and hence, they remain ‘hidden.’ Also, it is difficult to distinguish the signs of mental health conditions, especially after a brain injury. 

To help the diagnosis, friends, family members, and caretakers can keep a close eye on the TBI victim and notice any changes in behavior or emotions. They can monitor extreme mood changes or the emotional swings that differ over time. Educate friends and family about the common effects of traumatic brain injury. It is crucial to familiarize the patient with the effects as well. If you or any of your family or friends suspect a mental health condition post brain injury, then speak with the doctor for further assessment and services if needed. Your doctor can prescribe a medication to aid with depression or advice and refer to therapies.

Treating mental health and brain injury separately

Following a brain injury, it is common to experience changing emotions, behavior, psychological states, and cognition. These changes do not indicate a mental health condition. Hence, receiving support from appropriate therapies and services is crucial after a brain injury. 

The ‘hidden’ effects like changes in emotions, etc., are challenging to explain to our close ones, even medical professionals, but can be the effects of a brain injury and not mental health problems. Therefore, if the brain injury victim is not diagnosed with a mental health condition, the patient may not be referred to mental health services or therapies. However, the patient should be referred to services and therapies that are specifically helpful in treating brain injury.

Treating mental health and brain injury as a dual diagnosis

Some people may need support from both brain injury services and mental health. In such cases of ‘dual diagnosis, one needs to seek separate services for both conditions. In addition, some people need different types of treatment for treating brain injury and mental health conditions. Hence, it is best to seek advice and referrals from trained medical professionals. To treat ‘dual diagnosis,’ treatment must be tailored on a patient-by-patient basis. Common forms of treatment offered for ‘dual diagnosis’ of mental health conditions and brain injury include medication, talking therapies, cognitive, behavioral therapy, etc.

Professionals involved in mental health and brain injury

Many professionals provide proper care and treatment for brain injury and mental health conditions. As per the patient’s need, they are referred to clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists, neuropsychiatrists, and mental health crisis teams, including mental health nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, support workers, etc.

Both brain injury and mental health are two separate conditions. However, they both can drastically affect a person. This makes it essential to get the right kind of support as per the diagnosis.