Depression After Brain Injury: What You Need to Know

Depression and Head Injury

“Late at night, I cried. When I thought about who I used to be and what I used to be able to do, I felt frightened and alone. Then the self-pity would kick in, and that made me feel ashamed,” writes author Kara Swanson. After her brain injury, Kara experienced significant bouts of depression, especially early on in her recovery. But over time, she learned to manage it, to accept who she was now, and to create a fulfilling life for herself.

What exactly is depression?

Depression is sadness than can last a few days or weeks, or a long time. It can also manifest as a loss of enjoyment in life, even in the activities that once gave a person great joy and sense of self. It is characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, and discouragement. It often follows a personal loss or an injury, like TBI. When someone’s life has changed drastically, it’s normal to feel depressed. It is not a sign of weakness, nor does it represent a moral failure. It is definitely not something to be ashamed of.

Depression can result from the chemical changes in the brain itself. It can also be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. If the depression becomes extreme and affects the way you live your life, it may become pathological. Seeking help early is crucial.

Signs and symptoms

When recognized early, depression is easier to treat. Family members — and individuals with brain injury — should watch for these common signs:


Depression can sometimes be a double-whammy. While depressed, you don’t have the energy or confidence to do what you need to do to try to feel better. Here are a few strategies that people with post-TBI depression have suggested:


For Kara and others with brain injury, the good news is that depression after a brain injury often goes away on its own or can be treated successfully with medication or non-traditional means like yoga or meditation.

Depression is usually treated with medication and/or counseling by a trained professional, but without treatment the symptoms can last longer and may return. Chronic depression can cause low self-esteem and poor quality of life. Treatment is usually quite successful, so there is little reason to delay seeking help.

“One of the most important steps in recovering from any traumatic event,” wrote Kara, “is realizing that you need help — that you can’t always make it by yourself  — and then finding the strength to seek it out.”

Posted on BrainLine June 21, 2017.

Comments (7)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I had a TBI 5 1/2 years ago & my depression & insomnia is bad. Most antidepressants either cause bad side effects, the one that say on patient the information"go to a hospital if you experience these symptoms" and if I don't have side effects which is a select few it doesn't work. I've given the ones I dont have side effects repeat tries for 2 months and nothing helps I used to go to therapy weekly and it helped my anxiety but the depression is a lost cause. Exercising helped a little but not much my diet isn't the best but I ate really healthy and exercised regularly for 2-3 months and it didn't help much. I've tried meditation and I'm in CBT. Idk what to do. It's been 5 1/2 years since the TBI and injuries. The beginning I didn't have the mental capacity to be depressed, I didn't even cry for 4 years. Then my ability to feel sympathy and cry came back slowly over time and once it came back depression came along with it and I can't find anything to help. I feel like I get my hopes when I try something new and then I don't get anywhere.

I know I need help, but it's not finding the strength to seek it, but rather the resources. Theres nothing affordable where I live, and due to child support and other bills I'm stretched beyond thin. I've been struggling with this since I went through the first windshield at 18, 20 years ago. I've had about 15 documented concussions and went through a second windshield 5 years ago. I'm 38 now and this is completely ruining every aspect of my life.

Thank you for the information that you put out. Not just myself but im sure others appreciate it

Dear readers. I am the king of depression. It began when I lost my grandmother when I was about 4. Started to stutter after that when I realized she was gone. Lost my daughter to crib death at 11 months 3 weeks old. Tomorrow is the 34th aniversity of Elizabeth's death. I have lost others very close since. Now with a high probability of CTE stage 3; it's magnified. I tell you all this so you will seek help. I have never seen anyone or tried any medications. Thought I had to just suck it up. I'm 58 now. Spent all this time depressed when I know now I didn't have to. I was recently put on Trazodone 100. It doesn't make it all go away but I take it 2 hours before bed. Late night is bad for me. Everything closes in. It gets me through that time and helps me sleep and I need that. Seek help. Don't struggle your entire life like I did. Hope this helps someone.

Hey Danny, I want you to know you helped me. Thank you. I am sorry for your losses and so thankful for your strength to say this. I appreciate you.

Does the Trazadone make you have strange dreams?

I had horrible headache due to trazadone.