Depression & Long-Term Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be exploring the long term effect of traumatic brain injuries on mental health, specifically depression. We'll look at the physiological effects of traumatic brain injuries and examine how they lead to long term changes in the brain.

What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Friday night lights have been a long loved part of American tradition. Heading to the stadium, or a friend's house for a Sunday afternoon football game is how many of us spend our fall weekends. However, a contact sport like football carries more risks than just broken bones for its players. The dangers of traumatic brain injury are high in sports like football, and the effects can be long lasting.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are any injury to the head that causes brain damage. It could involve a fractured skull, leaving the brain open to the environment. But, traumatic brain injuries can happen from bumps and falls as well. Even if the skull isn't damaged, the brain is still suspended in liquid inside its case. A blow to the head sends the brain flying back and forth, damaging delicate brain cells.

During a TBI the brain is slammed back and forth inside the skull damaging nervous tissue
skull and brain


When a person experiences a TBI, the brain is damaged. The brain is made of individual cells called neurons. The neurons send messages to each other inside your brain and throughout your entire body. When the brain is damaged parts of neurons can be damaged, or the cells can die altogether. The connections between neurons control all of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. So, if you damage neurons you also damage your ability to process your world. This can result in the effects seen in a TBI, such as depression, anxiety, memory loss and others.

Long Term Effects

Even one severe TBI can cause long lasting effects, but people who have multiple TBIs in their life are at even greater risk, such as football players and boxers. Many football players have come forward with symptoms of depression, anxiety, dementia and other forms of extensive brain damage in recent years. Through studies of these athletes as well as other TBI patients, scientists have found there is a direct link between traumatic brain injury and several long term conditions including depression.

Contact sports like football put patients at greater risk for multiple TBIs

What Is Depression?

Picture waking up to start the day, but getting out of bed seems so hard. Your alarm goes off, but it feels so hopeless to even try to get out of bed. Nothing you do feels like it makes a difference, and sometimes you wonder if anyone would even miss you if you just stayed under the covers all day. Maybe you try to get up and force a smile, but underneath you just feel empty.

Although sad, this scenario depicts what life is like for some people with depression. Depression is a mental health condition where people have an imbalance of chemicals called neurotransmitters in their brain. Depression prevents them from feeling happy, even when things are going well in their life. Although many people suffer from depression due to genetics, some people acquire this disorder when they have a TBI.

Depression and TBI

Depression is one of the most common problems associated with TBIs. Studies show that about half of the people who experience a TBI will suffer from depression during the first year after injury. About two-thirds of people with a TBI will suffer from depression within seven years of the accident. Some studies have also shown an increased risk for suicide and suicidal ideations in the first few years after a TBI.

Depression can take a serious toll on a person's life. Not only does it affect their social well being and interfere with their ability to work, but it can also slow cognitive recovery during a TBI. This means that people who suffer from depression due to their injury will also have worse overall outcomes as their brain heals slower.

What Causes Depression During a TBI?

Depression is a complex diagnosis, and there are several factors that contribute to a TBI patient getting depression after their injury. First, it depends on the structural damage to the brain. Although patients experience depression with both mild and severe TBIs, some types of brain damage are more likely to produce depression.

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