The Unseen Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury, like most injuries, can range in severity. Individuals can react differently to the same type of injury, so no two traumatic brain injuries are alike. What most people consider when looking at a traumatic brain injury is the physical effects, such as fine motor function, memory recall, and other measures that can be more objectively measured.

However, beneath the surface of a traumatic brain injury lies a more subjective problem, and that is the common emotional and psychological effects of traumatic brain injury. Many victims of traumatic brain injury experience personality changes, ranging from subtle to severe. A study initiated by Professor Roger Wood from the University of Swansea in Wales, UK has shown that victims of traumatic brain injury have a much higher incidence of some specific problems in emotional processing, leading to relationship issues and increased the difficulty in recovery.

Wood’s study showed a recurrent problem among traumatic brain injury patients, which included a loss of emotional attachment with friends and family. This suggests a link between traumatic brain injury and difficulty empathizing with others. Additionally, traumatic brain injury patients showed impairment in their ability to recognize the emotions of people in pictures or video. The impairment was directly related to identifying specific emotions and the ability to empathize and was not associated with more general cognitive deficits such as information processing.

In addition to a lack of empathy, victims of traumatic brain injury often suffer from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. This is especially common among members of the military, but anyone can develop anxiety or post-traumatic stress surrounding the incidents and situations leading up to their injury.

Additionally, victims of traumatic brain injury can experience mood swings. This makes it difficult to relate to others and to reintegrate into social life, even with close family members. Those close to the individual often express being nervous around the victim, fearing saying or doing something to cause an adverse emotional reaction from them. As part of the mood swings, victims can become irritated, angry, and even violent quickly and sometimes unexpectedly.

Sometimes, initial psychological and emotional effects of a traumatic brain injury can subside after the first few months after the injury. However, it is always important to talk to a physician or psychologist regarding any concerns with the victim’s behavior or mental processing. There are mood stabilizing medications a physician can prescribe if severe mood swings cause concern to the victim or close friends or family.

Depression is another effect of traumatic brain injury, and although can be considered a normal response to a major life change, symptoms should always be communicated to a physician or psychologist. Sometimes, signs of depression can be symptoms of the brain injury itself. If the symptoms do not appear for a few months after the initial injury, they are more likely to be signs of depression.

In order to better navigate the circumstances surrounding traumatic brain injury, consider seeking help for all involved. Counseling or support groups for both the victim and the friends and family of the victim can prove to provide a myriad of helpful resources.