Traumatic brain injuries can occur in many different types of accidents, and these damages often leave victims with lifelong effects. Both physical and cognitive impairment are potential risks, both of which can contribute to high levels of stress for these patients. Many TBI victims find themselves experiencing mental health conditions, including an increased risk for suicide.
Victims of TBIs have a much higher chance of committing suicide than individuals who have not endured any form of TBI in their medical histories. Many internal and external factors can contribute to this risk for TBI victims, only adding to the list of risks related to TBIs.
Shared Factors of TBIs and Suicide Risk Level
Even the most minor traumatic brain injury can lead to lifelong consequences for victims if they don’t receive immediate medical treatment. Depending on the severity of the TBI and what section of the brain it affects, TBI victims can experience ongoing altered or decreased cognitive processing, anxiety, motor skill difficulties, lack of inhibition, and depression. These conditions on their own are risk factors for suicide, and they become even more dangerous if combined with substance use to cope with symptoms of TBI.
Many TBI victims experience lowered inhibitions and high impulsivity, due to damage to areas of the brain that control impulses and logical thought. With reduced control over impulse actions or the ability to think through their actions, TBI victims who suffer this symptom may be more likely to act on an impulsive thought to commit suicide.
Since TBIs cause damage to the brain, it’s possible for them to impact different centers of emotion and neurotransmitter production. Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all common types of mental illness that can manifest or worsen due to TBIs. These types of mental illness have high suicide risk, as they can make people feel like ending their lives is the only way to escape their symptoms.
After sustaining a TBI, a person may be unable to cope with their symptoms in healthy ways, instead turning to substance use. Drugs and alcohol use are a common risk factor for suicide, especially for people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction. For people who struggle with conditions like depression and anxiety, alcohol and drug use can create a dangerous state of mind that can lead to contemplating suicide.
TBI victims who struggle with cognitive and motor difficulties may find it difficult to engage in normal social interactions. When signs of their injuries are visible, many TBI victims will avoid social contact. Both of these scenarios can lead to social isolation, which in turn increases the risk of suicide. Anyone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts needs emotional support, and social isolation can prevent TBI victims from receiving the help they need.
Lowered inhibitions, mental illness, substance use, and social isolation are all risk factors of suicide, and the chance of acting on suicidal thoughts increases in proportion to experiencing more of these symptoms. Many TBI victims struggle with at least one, if not all these risk factors. When combined with the stress of their injuries, TBI victims may find themselves considering suicide – potentially without anyone to ground them if they’re experiencing social isolation.
Immediate treatment may be necessary to decrease the medical impact of a traumatic brain injury, but care cannot stop there. TBI victims require comprehensive ongoing support to help alleviate the impact of these and other physical and mental complications. Providing help with difficulties that arise, providing a constant support system, and recognizing how these risk factors develop can all help reduce the risk of suicide in TBI victims.