Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a medical condition that can affect one’s physical, neurological, and/ or emotional functioning and occurs because of experiencing a jolt or blow to one’s head. The brain is the most complex organ in the body, and when it suffers trauma the initial and expansive effects are largely unknown. The specific symptoms that develop because of a TBI will vary significantly, as they depend on the type of injury, the severity of the injury, as well as the area of the brain that was injured. The nature of the symptoms can shift as some TBI symptoms may appear immediately and dissipate rather quickly, while others could present several days or weeks later, and some experienced symptoms may evolve over time. Although everyone is unique and the circumstances surrounding an individual’s TBI experience will be distinct, there are certain symptoms that are more common than others, including depression and anxiety.
The word depression is often used as a synonym for sadness. However, when used in a clinical setting, depression carries a much different meaning. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that depression is “characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities,” resulting in significant impairment in one’s daily life. All people will experience bouts of extreme sadness, and even despair at some point in their lives. For most, these feelings will naturally dissipate in time and/ or with a change of circumstance. Depression, also known as major depressive disorder and clinical depression, is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and is recognized as a serious mood disorder. An individual who suffers from clinical depression has a chemical imbalance in his or her brain, resulting in an inability to return to an emotional equilibrium as quickly as others when experiencing an emotional low. Sustaining a TBI can affect how one’s brain produces certain chemicals, which could result in the development of depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) depression affects nearly ten percent of the general population in America.
Anxiety is a normal emotional reaction in response to stressful situations. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “anxiety refers to anticipation of a future concern and is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior.” Anxiety is among the most common side effects of TBI. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) notes anxiety as a frequently experienced short and long-term symptom of TBI. While the aftermath of a TBI can be incredibly stressful and anxiety provoking for anyone, experiencing persistent, debilitating anxiety is not healthy, and could be indicative of an anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates 40 million adults, approximately 18% of the population, deal with an anxiety disorder, including those that have sustained TBI. Surviving a traumatic event, such as a TBI, can cause an individual to develop anxiety and/ or depression.
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