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Depression Symptoms Can Increase with Concussion

U.S. Air Force Capt. John Stamm simulates a person with a head injury during a first aid class for Afghan locals at a school in the Dara District of Panjshir Province, Afghanistan, Jan. 3, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Teddy Wade)

Many service members who sustain a concussion also cope with depression. There is a distinct connection between depression and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In fact, depression diagnoses increase after a brain injury.

“Sometimes the challenge is [that] post-concussive syndrome can sound the same as depression,” said Kelvin Lim, principal investigator for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center location at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System. “It is important to be aware of overlap between the two.”

TBI and Depression

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center research found that depression can strongly influence post-concussion symptoms following a concussion. The study shows that patients who are diagnosed with both a concussion and depression report more severe symptoms than patients with only a concussion.

Asking the right questions can help providers prescribe the right treatment. Through targeted questioning a provider can distinguish if the patient’s post-concussive symptoms are similar to depression, or if the patient is experiencing co-occurring conditions. The right questions can lead to the right diagnosis. The right diagnosis leads to the right treatment.

Service Member Seeks Treatment

Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh noticed some things about himself right away after his TBI, including depression. Before the injury, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, working out and spending time with friends and family. All of that changed after his brain injury.

“I found myself not wanting to do things I enjoyed prior,” Waugh said.

Treatment helped Waugh recover. At first, Waugh said he wasn’t sure where to turn for treatment. He was skeptical about medicines until he gave them a chance and found that they worked. He also gave therapy a try.

“I started seeing mental health (providers),” he said. “It helped immensely to get things off my chest and out of my mind, and to get a fresh outlook at things.”

Treatment Works

Both concussion and depression are treatable conditions. Lim stressed that staying engaged in treatment, and with a provider, is vital to successful treatment of TBI and depression. It is also important to remember that treatment may look different for each patient.

“Affective use of different types of therapies (is helpful). In many cases different treatments are combined,” Lin said. “As we know, no two people are the same.”

Comments (8)

  • I have severe TBI from s firetruck wreck in 2012 now I walk around wondering what I can't remember I was a engine man in navy and a heat and air conditioning technician now I have trouble changing a light and I use to run with a rescue squad and fire department not any more EJO

    • Michael, thank you for sharing your experience. We suggest that you contact your health care provider to discuss your concerns. If you need help locating a provider, the DCoE Outreach Center is available 24/7 by calling 866-966-1020.

  • Great enlightening artivlr

    • Charlene, we're glad you found it informative!

  • Work with thousands of post-concussion clients plus a clinical study on PPCS with athletes (see
    http://sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40798-016-0063-y ) the depression symptoms will often follow for those exhibiting parasympathetic dominance following concussion. Lee

  • Many of the symptoms from concussion are likely related to, or worsened by, impairment of the autonomic nervous system. In a case series of athletes with persisting post-concussion symptoms, use of a closed-loop, noninvasive neurotechnology has been associated with symptom reduction and improved autonomic regulation. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27747793

  • By no case being the same, then there is a clear point message that the research of the matter to enhance the thoroughes approach to recovering in this traumatic fashion can assist doctors practitioners cers social workers ,and families on the update of each person in the recovering healing process.

  • Thank you all for sharing additional informative resources!

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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.