Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury
Last Updated: 30 May 2023
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The symptoms of TBI go beyond the physical.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a growing topic of research and discussion in the mental health and behavioral health fields. As a leading organization in Veteran behavioral health care in Texas, we’re taking a look at how TBI impacts a person’s quality of life, and how we can treat it.
What Causes TBI?
According to the CDC, the most common causes of TBIs are falls, firearm-related incidents, vehicle crashes, and assaults. When a sudden external force damages the brain, it can cause a vast array of injuries that qualify as TBI, and produce an equally wide array of debilitating symptoms. We tend to think of TBI as something that primarily affects athletes and service members because of their physically combative environments, but truthfully, anyone can experience a traumatic brain injury.
How Does TBI Impact Someone’s Daily Life?
The tricky thing about TBI is that its symptoms can be easily confused for symptoms of other illnesses or disorders.
“They might experience issues with motor skills, balance, and memory,” says Kristy Dean, Regional Director of The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics at Endeavors. “Sometimes it manifests as impulsivity or irritability that a partner might not necessarily recognize as a symptom of TBI or PTSD. They may just think you’re being rude or really difficult.”
Dean says there’s a direct line between TBI and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that can lead straight to increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors. There’s also a line between these traumas and issues like unemployment and homelessness. Furthermore, research shows that relationship issues, employment issues, and physical health issues can all increase the risk of certain mental health diagnoses.
“They’re all tangled together,” Dean says.
How Is TBI Connected To PTSD?
Traumatic Brain Injury is a neurological disorder, while Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental disorder. Both have physical components, as the stress from PTSD can cause physical damage. TBI results from physical trauma to the brain that can also impair physical abilities, social skills, and communication. The causes are different, but the symptoms often look the same.
Despite the growing research on TBI, the question remains: Where do the impacts of PTSD end, and where do the impacts of TBI start? Dean offers an example of how the two can be so easily intertwined:
“Imagine a soldier is in a caravan and there’s an IED that blows up. They get thrown, but they survive. But they watch their buddies die next to them. That soldier is going to have PTSD. But they also have all of that physical damage to their brain from the blast and from being thrown out of the vehicle.”
TBI and PTSD don’t target combat Veterans alone, and both can be compounding issues.
“Maybe that soldier fell down the stairs or got dropped as a child,” Dean continues. “When you have layer upon layer of vulnerability, something that might not noticeably impact the person next to you might show up as significant damage to your brain.”
How Can TBI Be Treated?
In addition to prescription and surgical treatments, individuals with TBI can benefit from a diverse range of behavioral rehabilitation treatments, including occupational and physical therapy, case management, vocational counseling, and psychiatry.
The first step to treatment is a diagnosis. “It is so important to properly diagnose,” says Dean. “If we miss the TBI issue, we can miss the corresponding increase of suicide risk.”
TBI Treatment At Endeavors
“Suicide risk reduction is the framework for everything we do,” says Dean. At Endeavors, our team of licensed clinicians provides in-person and virtual behavioral health services to Veterans and first responders in San Antonio, El Paso, and Killeen, and we provide virtual care across the state of Texas.
“Our hope is that by highlighting TBI, we can also help raise awareness in the world of behavioral health treatment that this is another way that we need to look at someone’s vulnerability. We need to understand what has happened with their brain, and what they’ve been through.”
Endeavors clinicians provide evidence-based care, which means they measure symptoms periodically and track the reduction of symptoms. That individual data is used to customize care plans for each client. “It’s a very targeted treatment and we do that across all of our behavioral health programs, whether it’s at our Cohen Clinics or in other behavioral health departments,” says Dean.
And since behavioral health connects to financial and housing stability, physical wellness, social wellness, and spiritual wellness, our clients receive comprehensive care to improve all the areas of their life that TBI might impact. At the end of the day, we are committed to helping them build healthy, stable, meaningful lives.
To make a care appointment, call: 210-866-3860.
Interested in learning more about TBI? Watch Deputy Chief of Behavioral Health Mark Riddick share his story on KSAT.
Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit endeavors.org.