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Traumatic Brain Injury and Risk for Suicide

By Allison Christenson and Anna Smiley

This month we will be discussing the association between Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and suicide. We know this is a sensitive subject to many, but this is an important correlation we feel the need to educate others on.

A traumatic brain injury is defined as “a change in brain function” that can lead to lasting physical and mental afflictions, such as trouble focusing or remembering things. Traumatic brain injuries, often referred to as TBIs, can come as a result of a concussion, a car accident, a fall, a penetrating injury, or others. There are different types of TBIs, as well. TBIs range from mild to severe, and are rated on an individual’s motor response, verbal response, and eye opening. TBI’s can cause a cognitive deficit and poor judgement. Concussions are the leading type of TBI, and can have debilitating impacts for an individual (Chang, 2019). Concussions can result in “mood swings, personality changes, fatigue, and insomnia,” among other post-concussive symptoms.

Traumatic brain injuries are associated with suicide risk. In fact, a Danish study found that severe traumatic brain injuries are associated with a 2.5 times increased suicide risk. Additionally, studies have shown that veterans with mild and moderate to severe TBI are at increased risk of death by drug overdose and firearms (Byers, 2020).

Risk factors for suicide, following a TBI, include; being male, sustaining serious injury, older age, substance abuse, depression, psychiatric disorders, unemployment, and alcohol disorders (Fralick, 2019 &, Brenner, 2020). One of the major factors that impacts an individual following a TBI is depression. In fact, “Most of the associations between post-TBI symptoms and suicidal ideation were statistically explained by co-occurring depression” (Campbell-Sills, 2021). Three themes that contributes to increased risk for suicide for TBI patients; 1. a loss of sense of self, 2. people that experience a TBI don’t have clear knowledge about what it is therefore it is an unseen disorder, 3. TBI’s can cause a loss of support system because of the afflicted individuals actions. 

People that experience a TBI are in need of an increased support system, therapy, and routine screening for suicidal ideation for years after the TBI. More education is needed on how traumatic brain injuries affect those that experience them. In addition, there should be more education for family members and caregivers on TBI’s and warning signs for suicide (Kemp, n.d.). Close monitoring for a year after suicide attempt is important for TBI patients, and it is important to limit the availability of substances. These individuals need social support, spirituality, and positive personal qualities reaffirmed continuously (Knight, 2020).

We believe that with enough care, support, and resources, individuals who have experienced a traumatic brain injury can go on to lead healthy and productive lives despite their injuries.

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