Depression After Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a worldwide health concern, and it is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in adults. After sustaining a TBI, many individuals experience psychological complications, including mood disorders like depression and anxiety. An estimated 20 to 40% of individuals experience depression within one year of experiencing a TBI, which can negatively impact a person’s quality of life and his or her ability to fully recover from the injury.

To better understand the factors that may influence a person’s likelihood of experiencing post-TBI depression, a group of researchers in Australia conducted a large-scale study of TBI patients. Over the course of a few years, they collected data from more than 1,000 patients who were admitted to Royal Hobart Hospital with TBI. At regular intervals from three weeks to two years after injury, researchers assessed participants’ depression symptoms, determined the severity of their injuries, and recorded other demographic data that may be associated with mood disorders after TBI. They analyzed this body of data and found that:

  • Patients who experienced higher levels of depression typically had more severe injuries, were more likely to be female, and remained in hospice care for short periods of time after the initial TBI.
  • Patients who experienced delayed depression – in other words, their symptoms did not begin until one year after injury – were typically younger, had less severe injuries, and remained in hospice care for only a short time.
  • Depression fluctuated over time, so the absence of depression at one point in time did not ensure that mood stability would continue over the course of recovery.

Depression and other mood disorders can have serious consequences for an individual’s emotional health, social and vocational functioning, and overall quality of life. When clinicians understand the demographic and medical variables that may influence a patient’s likelihood of experiencing depression after TBI, they can form appropriate treatment plans and address their patients’ individual psychological needs during the recovery period.

Gomez R, Skilbeck C, Thomas M, et al. Growth mixture modeling of depression symptoms following traumatic brain injury. Frontiers in Psychology. (August 2017).


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