Head and brain injuries can be very traumatic for individuals and their families. It’s common for the affected person to undergo challenging and often frightening changes as a result of the injury, including physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural changes.
One common after-effect is the onset of depression, a serious mental health condition which can be a direct result of the injury and/or a psychological response to the trauma.
Dealing with depression can seem overwhelming, particularly if you’re also recovering physically and learning to adapt to other changes in your life caused by the injury.
However, depression doesn’t have to be a life sentence. There are many ways you can learn to cope with the condition and continue living a “normal” life. Furthermore, if you’re a loved one of someone suffering with depression after a brain injury, your love and support may be the most important thing you can contribute to help them recover.
How do head injuries cause depression?
One direct cause of depression in head injury sufferers is damage to parts of the brain which regulate behaviour and emotion. Many affected people undergo mood swings and severe feelings of irritability or anger as a result.
In some rare cases, head injuries may also damage a person’s pituitary gland, leading to hypothyroidism which often results in depression.
Depression can also be indirectly caused by the trauma and frustration of living with physical or cognitive difficulties, such as:
- Difficulty walking
- Reduced motor control
- Memory problems
- Difficulty making decisions and/or processing information
- Problems with motivation
What is depression and how is it diagnosed?
We all experience feelings of sadness now and again. However, depression is a serious health condition which can persist for months or even years. Symptoms of depression include:
- Continuously feeling down or sad most of the time
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Low self esteem
- Feelings of guilt
- Irritability and intolerance of other people
- Loss of motivation
- Lack of interest in things or activities, even if it is something you previously enjoyed
- Finding it hard to make decisions or getting overwhelmed by decision-making
- Feelings of anxiety or worry
- Sleep disturbance
- Reduced attention to physical appearance or hygiene
- Suicidal thoughts and/or feelings and/or thoughts of self-harm
Depression can have significant effects on a person’s ability to go about their day to day life. They may feel overwhelmed by everyday stressors they could previously cope with, avoid contact with family and friends, and their performance at work may suffer.
Depression can be diagnosed by your GP after they ask you some questions about your life and how you’re feeling. It’s recommended that you visit your GP if your feelings of depression last longer than two weeks.
The NHS also has an online mood self-assessment quiz which can help you recognise any feelings of depression and access some useful resources.
Treating depression after a brain or head injury
The following are some of the many ways you can treat and manage depression, including seeking professional help and self-care tips:
- Therapy – speaking to a professional therapist or counsellor is one of the most effective ways to treat depression. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you recognise your emotions and change the way you think and respond to your feelings. Your GP can help you access therapy and counselling.
- Rehabilitation – taking steps to recover physically or learning to cope and live with your brain injury may help alleviate feelings of frustration and anger, reducing your feelings of depression.
- Talking to friends and family – many people with depression withdraw from friends and family. However, spending time with loved ones can help boost your mood.
- Invest in self-care – make sure you spend time everyday doing things you enjoy and that help you relax. This could be anything, from watching your favourite TV show, to listening to music, to painting.
- Try to exercise everyday – research suggests exercise can improve your mood. Try to exercise for at least a few minutes every day if possible, whether it be running, swimming, walking or any other physical activity you enjoy.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol – although drugs and alcohol can temporarily make you feel better, they are likely to make your depression worse in the long term.
- Try to maintain a healthy diet – like exercise, eating well and drinking plenty of water can improve your mood.
- Medication – sometimes no amount of self-care or exercise can truly alleviate symptoms of depression. Discuss with your GP whether medication is right for you.
Helping loved ones deal with depression after a brain injury
If a friend or family member is experiencing depression after a brain injury, they are more likely to seek your help before turning to a professional. It can be confusing supporting a person through depression. However, there are simple things you can do to make a huge difference:
- Reach out – your loved one may try to pull away or find it difficult to keep in touch. Ensure you reach out to them, even if it’s just a quick text message, to show them you’re there and you care about them.
- Listen – your loved one may feel lonely and socially isolated as a result of their head injury and depression. Showing them that you are willing to listen is one of the best ways to be supportive.
- Talk – you don’t necessarily have to talk about your loved one’s feelings but avoid critical language such as “what do you have to be sad about?”. People experiencing depression can feel very critical of themselves so any disapproval will likely make them withdraw further.
- Help them seek support – offer to accompany your loved one to any appointments or consider offering help with chores or childcare.
- Be understanding – it can be incredibly frustrating to support someone with depression, particularly if they do not seem to want your help. Try to be patient, avoid placing too much pressure on your loved one, and simply continue to let them know you care and that you’re there for them.
Do you need advice about claiming compensation for a head injury?
Dealing with depression after a brain injury can deeply affect an individual’s quality of life, from their relationships and ability to socialise, to their performance at work (if they’re able to work).
If you’ve sustained a head injury due to the recklessness, negligence, or intentional act of someone else, you may be able to claim compensation for things like pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of income potential, and loss of quality of life.
Claiming compensation for a head injury can be complicated and stressful, involving considerable work to gather sufficient evidence (including expert evidence). It’s therefore essential to consult a brain injury solicitor with specialist knowledge and experience to support you through the process and help you access the compensation you deserve as efficiently and painlessly as possible.