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The Connection Between Concussion and Mental Health Symptoms

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2022, concussion was linked to an increased risk of mental health problems, psychiatric hospitalization, and self-harm among children and teenagers aged 5 to 18. This cohort research involved 448 803 children and adolescents who had concussion or orthopedic injury and found that those who had experienced concussion were 40% more likely to develop mental health problems within six months compared to those who had not experienced concussion.

woman in public experiencing mental health symptoms

While the link between concussion and mental health is clear, it can be difficult to tell if a loved one’s brain injury is causing mental health symptoms. Some common signs of mental health issues that may be related to concussion include mood changes, irritability, anxiety, depression, emotional outbursts or hypersensitivity. If you notice any of these changes in your loved one, it is important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional about the possibility that their brain injury may be causing mental health symptoms.

Concussion Overview

Concussion is a type of brain injury that can occur after a hit to the head or a blow to the body that causes the brain to move around within the skull. Although a sports-related concussion resulting from a head injury is the most common, they can affect anybody at any age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, up to three million people in the United States suffer concussions in sports and other recreational activities. Most of these concussions are minor, but even a mild concussion can cause symptoms that last for days or weeks. While many concussions are minor, they all qualify as a traumatic brain injury.

In the short term, concussion can cause a variety of symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating, and behavioral changes such as aggression or irritability. These post concussion symptoms can have a significant impact on mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

One of the most common short- and long-term effects of brain injury is mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, aggression, and impulsivity. If you are concerned that a loved one’s brain injury may be contributing to their mental health, there are several things to look out for.

Signs & Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of a brain injury that may cause mental health disorder?

Even those who have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (“mild tbi”) may experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, aggression, and impulsivity. Others include poor sleep quality, mood swings, self harm behavior, suicidal ideation, and other depression symptoms. Parents and loved ones should be on the lookout for the following post concussion symptoms as they may lead to a greater risk of experiencing mental health conditions:

– Changes in mood or behavior

– Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

– Feeling anxious or depressed

– Irritability or outbursts of anger

– Isolation from friends and family

– Problems with sleep or poor sleep quality

While findings show that high school athletes and those who experience subsequent concussions are at higher risk for developing post concussion symptoms that affect mental health, risk factors are present for all concussion and TBI patients.

What’s the difference between a mild traumatic brain injury and other TBIs?

One key difference between mild and more severe forms of TBI is that the effects of a mild brain injury may not always be immediately apparent. While symptoms of other TBIs, such as memory loss and cognitive difficulties, are generally easy to recognize, these symptoms may be less obvious in cases of mild TBI. Other factors that can influence the severity of a TBI include the location of the injury and the force of the impact.

Treatment Options

What treatments are available for concussion recovery that cause mental health problems?

First, it is important to note that mental health symptoms alone do not always indicate a mental health diagnosis. In cases where the traumatic brain injury is at the root of these symptoms, it is critical to explore treatment options that can address both the brain injury and any resulting mental health issues.

One potential treatment option for treating a brain injury-related mental health condition is brain rehabilitation. This approach aims to improve brain functioning and health by using specially tailored therapies that help the brain adapt and repair itself, often resulting in improvements in mental health and emotional symptoms as well.

What kind of health care providers offer brain rehabilitation?

A functional neurologist is a type of healthcare provider who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the nervous system. This includes conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Functional neurologists often use a variety of treatment approaches to help patients improve their overall health and well-being. One such approach is brain rehabilitation, which may be an effective treatment option for those suffering from the effects of a brain injury.

What are the benefits of brain rehabilitation?

There are many potential benefits of brain rehabilitation, including improved mental health symptoms, increased cognitive functioning, and improved quality of life. Brain rehabilitation can also help patients learn new skills and strategies to cope with the challenges that may arise as a result of their brain injury. With the help of a functional neurologist and other healthcare providers, patients can work towards building resilience and achieving optimal health following a brain injury.

How can functional neurology help treat concussions and other head injuries?

patient receiving low-level laser therapy

Functional neurology is based on the principle that the nervous system controls all functions of the body. Therefore, by stimulating and/or inhibiting specific areas of the brain, functional neurologists can effectively treat a head injury as well as improve a variety of neurological conditions.

There is growing evidence to support the use of functional neurology in the treatment of post concussion syndrome and including mental health. One study showed that it was more effective than physical therapy in reducing post concussion symptoms. Another study found that it was an effective treatment for post concussion syndrome, with patients reporting a reduction in symptoms after just six weeks of treatment.

What is functional neurology?

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Functional neurology or chiropractic neurology is a relatively new health care discipline that has its roots in functional medicine. Functional medicine is a branch of medicine that takes a systems-oriented approach to health care, to address the underlying causes of disease. The goal of functional neurology is to optimize cognitive function and overall patient health.

How do functional neurologists treat post concussion syndrome?

By taking a comprehensive approach to the treatment of post concussion syndrome and other neurological disorders that is customized to each patient. After conducting a thorough evaluation, the functional neurologist will develop a treatment plan that typically includes many treatments such as neurological rehabilitation exercises, vestibular therapy, and other intensive non-surgical and drug-free interventions.

What are examples of neurological rehabilitation exercises?

Doctors practicing functional neurology typically administer and interpret diagnostic testing and prescribe neurological rehabilitation exercises for TBI and concussion patients as a part of their treatment plan. These exercises are designed to help the brain recover and function more effectively. The goal of functional neurology is to optimize cognitive performance and improve quality of life.

Some of the most common neurological rehabilitation exercises prescribed by functional neurologists include:

– Balance and coordination exercises

– Gait training

– Strength and flexibility exercises

– Cognitive and memory training

– Visual perceptual training

– Low level laser treatments

– Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

– Neurofeedback therapy

Taking Action & Getting Help

While concussion symptoms may not always mean that a survivor has a diagnosable mental illness, it is important to note that treating the brain injury is often as effective as traditional talk therapy and medicines. Not treating the brain injury is leaving a potentially effective treatment option unexplored. If you suspect that your loved one’s brain injury is causing mental health problems, it is important to seek medical help.

A board certified doctor practicing functional neurology can provide answers and options for treating brain injuries and understanding the connection to mental health. Also, it is important to speak with a qualified mental health professional.

A qualified care team consisting of mental health professionals and qualified functional neurologists can provide guidance and support that can help you or your loved one manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

How to get started?

Whether you are looking for non-invasive treatment options or simply want to learn more about the relationship between brain injuries and mental health, a free consultation with a board certified doctor can provide the answers and support you need.

Where can I learn more about mental health issues?

Mental Health Awareness Month is also a great time to learn more about mental health and brain injury, and how the two conditions often interact. With the right knowledge and support, you can help your loved one manage their brain injury and improve their mental health. Here are several resources to help you learn more about mental health conditions and mental illnesses.

National Alliance of Mental Illness

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Anxiety & Depression Association of America

US Department of Health & Human Services

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