Depression & Suicide Among Patients with Traumatic Brain Injuries


Suicide Depression and Head Injuries
After a traumatic brain injury (TBI), patients experience a number of different challenges during the recovery process. In addition to the mental and physical difficulties, patients can experience emotional and behavioral changes. Though it may be difficult to talk about, a lot of patients may have feelings of depression or hopelessness, or even have thoughts of suicide. Feelings like these can be brought on by the stress of the injury and rehabilitation process, though damage to areas of your brain in charge of your emotional responses can also have an impact on how you feel.

A recent report reveals that major depressive disorder (MDD) may be the most common and challenging mental health condition that patients encounter following a TBI—53.1% of TBI patients in the study experienced MDD at least once in the first year after their injury. Another study showed that suicidal thoughts and attempts are also common reactions to TBI—23% of the participants had thoughts of suicide, while 17% actually attempted suicide after their injury. These higher rates of suicidal behaviors may also be connected to MDD following TBI. Though these statistics may seem a little scary, it doesn’t mean that you have to be without hope when it comes to coping with these issues during recovery; a good TBI treatment center should recognize that addressing their patients’ mental health issues is a key component of the recovery process.


Though there’s a lot of research showing increased rates of depression and suicide attempts following a TBI, there is another aspect of the story that’s worth considering—suicide attempts as causes of brain injuries, not just effects of them. Oftentimes, depression or other mental health issues exist prior to a brain injury. Sadly, the feelings experienced as a result of such issues can lead to suicide attempts, which appear to be responsible for a large number of the intentional injuries that cause TBIs. In these situations, addressing your mental health history with your health care team will be an especially important part of the recovery process.

Of course, the recovery process for brain-injured patients can be incredibly stressful on its own. Adding in feelings of depression or suicide may make some of the emotional aspects of recovery even more difficult—all of these things thrown together can seem like a series of overwhelming hurdles to jump. However, that doesn’t mean they’re un-jumpable. Regardless of how or when they are experienced, things like depression and suicidal thoughts must be addressed in your recovery process. Perhaps working with a health care team that includes mental health specialists could help create a more well-rounded approach to your treatment. No matter what, it’s critical that you to talk with someone on your team in order to figure out how to tackle the different feelings you or a loved one may be experiencing during this difficult time.

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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5 Responses to Depression & Suicide Among Patients with Traumatic Brain Injuries

  1. Celia August 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    My little brother which is 26 tried hanging himself. He has been having suicidal thoughts when he drinks. Almost a year ago he was involved in a fight which his head was injured with an object and the head was very swollen. The X-ray showed everything was okay? Do u think we should take him to get x-rayed again? I really don’t know how to help him since he gets irritated easily. Thanks

    • Nadine October 2, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      I am not a doctor, but am living with a loved one that suffered TBI, or traumatic brain injury. I am also a special education teacher. Irritation, mood swings and anger can be signs of TBI. Any jarring or trauma to the head can change the electrical patterns. A neurologist and neurosurgeon diagnosed the areas of the brain in my loved one that was affected through a brain scan. Medications have helped, but we are always on “call”. Alcohol can also play a big roll in TBI patients and the brain. Some TBI patients do not remember how much they drink, or when. This is also true when have medications. That is why they are often monitored with meds by a caregiver. Hope this helps.

    • juan August 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

      My brother was jumped on by a group of thugs and they beat him. He was hospitalized and bleeding from the brain. A year later he did hang himself. Your article was three yrs ago, so I hope your brother is better.

  2. Larry May 6, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    I hit my head in a car accident and have been emotional and angered easily. Nobody understands really and probably thinks I am making it up or something. I am depressed and think of killing myself and have come close a bunch of times. I am alone most of the time and cannot stand to be around people. I get stressed by just about anything and get angry at nothing, even if nothing is going on I will mentally create something in my mind. I can’t remember anything on a list or too many numbers, have trouble with math and get confused all the time. I am afraid that I will hurt someone. I don’t have insurance so screw me right? no help only tests that do not help at all. I don’t understand why this is all happening to me and can’t control it. I do not think I can go on doing it… Maybe this will help you understand what this is all about?

    • Julie July 21, 2014 at 3:21 am #


      I had car accident 14 years ago, and ended up fracturing my skull. This happened in Brisbane while i was living there, but a year later, moved back to NZ to be with my family. I couldn’t get ANY help from dr’s here, as ACC wouldn’t cover it. I’m only getting help THIS year as a result of me nearly doing the haka up and down their butts to get some help and I am. You need to speak to your GP, if that person won’t listen, then go somewhere else. You need help and I sooooo understand the frustration of it all mate.
      The longer it’s left, the harder things get.

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