The Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury, Part 3: Emotional Complications

Photo of scalesThe effects of a traumatic brain injury can vary wildly. One of the many ways a TBI can change a person is by altering the way that person feels or expresses emotion. Depending on the site and severity of the injury, there are different emotional complications the TBI sufferer may experience.

Emotional Complications Related to TBI

  • Difficulty controlling emotions. Mood swings are a common change after TBI. A person may feel several different emotions in rapid succession or may find that their mood can change at a moment’s notice. Sudden anger, sadness, happiness – any of these changes are possible. The technical term for this is emotional lability, and it usually happens as a result of damage to the areas of the brain that control emotions and behavior. Often, there is no specific trigger for these mood swings. Sometimes, they aren’t even related to how that person feels. Someone who is depressed may have fits of laughter for seemingly no reason. This can be confusing for family members and friends who are not familiar with the effects of TBI.
  • Anxiety. Feelings of fear or nervousness that are sudden and seemingly unrelated to the TBI sufferer’s environment are another common effect of TBI. Anxiety can result from the sufferer being overwhelmed, for example, when returning to work after the injury. Time pressures are another common cause, as is post-traumatic stress from the injury.
  • Depression. A very common post-TBI symptom, depression often arises as the person struggles to recover from TBI, especially in cases where the injury causes long-term disability. Damage to the emotion control centers of the brain can cause it as well, producing biochemical and physical changes to the brain that lead to depression.
  • Irritability. Some TBI victims may be described as having a short fuse. Up to 71 percent of TBI victims experience some form of irritability according to studies. This can manifest as yelling, cursing, physical outbursts and verbal threats.

Many of the emotional effects of TBI will become less pronounced over time, but they do not always resolve entirely. Counseling, medication and copious amounts of rest and relaxation are all strategies that the TBI sufferer can use to help mute the emotional effects of TBI.

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