Brain Injury and Mental Health

According to ABI Research Lab, some of the short- and long-term effects of brain injury are related to mental health and can include anxiety, depression, aggression, and impulsivity. It is important to note that these symptoms do not always mean that a survivor has a diagnosable mental illness.

Some people may experience emotions very quickly and intensely but with very little lasting effect. For example, they may get angry easily but get over it quickly. Or they may seem to be “on an emotional roller coaster” in which they are happy one moment, sad the next, and then angry. This is called emotional lability.

Mood swings and emotional lability are often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls emotions and behavior. Often there is no specific event that triggers a sudden emotional response. This may be confusing for family members who may think they accidentally did something that upset the injured person.

Brain Injury and Emotional Expressions

In some cases, the brain injury can cause sudden episodes of crying or laughing. These emotional expressions or outbursts may not have any relationship to the way injured individuals feel (in other words, they may cry without feeling sad or laugh without feeling happy). In some cases, the emotional expression may not match the situation (such as laughing at a sad story). Usually, the person cannot control these expressions of emotion. Fortunately, this situation often improves in the first few months after injury, and people often return to a more normal emotional balance and expression

The relationship between Brain Injury and Mental Health

It is complex. It can be difficult to disentangle whether the symptoms a survivor is experiencing are a consequence of a pre-existing mental illness, possibly made worse by the brain injury, or a consequence of the brain injury alone. This is partly because symptoms of brain injury and those of some psychiatric disorders overlap (e.g., fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, poor concentration, and difficulty taking part in activities). What we do know is that people who sustain a brain injury are at an increased risk of experiencing mental illness.

The psychiatric consequences of brain injury and Mental Health are influenced by pre-injury status, co-occurring disorders, injury-related factors, and pre-and post-injury environmental factors, among other potential influences. 

Women are at higher risk

Being a woman is also a potential risk factor. It has been found that women fare worse than men after traumatic brain injury when it comes to symptoms of headaches and dizziness, confidence and initiative, and perception of the need for supervision. Women with traumatic brain injury likewise report more depression, stress, and anxiety symptoms.

Women survivors of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) commonly experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic brain injury is reported to increase the risk of post-traumatic stress symptoms. This is significant not only because of the potentially devastating additive effects of both PTSD and brain injury but also because of the issue symptom overlap creates for identification of brain injury in women survivors, with symptoms of brain injury possibly misattributed to PTSD.

The co-occurrence of traumatic brain injury with depression and PTSD can affect the recovery process after a brain injury. That, together with the knowledge that women generally are worse off after their brain injury than men, highlights the importance of addressing the specific needs of women survivors of IPV who have sustained a traumatic brain injury and mental health and history of injury likely places them at an even greater risk for poor health than women in the general population.

Problems Controlling your Emotions?

If you are having problems controlling your emotions, it is important to talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist familiar with the emotional problems caused by brain injury in order to find out the cause and get help with treatment. Counseling for the family can be reassuring and allow them to cope better on a daily basis. Several medications may help improve or stabilize mood.


This article is provided by Dr. Ralph Kueche (Child Psychologist). Dr. Kuechle is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. Learn more about Dr. Kuechle.

About Harbor Psychiatry & Mental Health

We believe outstanding healthcare is delivered when we merge the science of medicine with the compassion of our hearts. We refer to this as “head and heart together,” inspiring constant improvement and lasting success.
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