How Can Depression Affect Recovery from Brain Injury?

Question: 

How can depression affect recovery from brain injury?

Answer: 

One of the reasons it’s so important to recognize and treat depression after brain injury is that depression really can color almost everything in a person’s life after the injury. It colors their view of themselves. It affects their ability to return to work. It affects their thinking abilities, their cognitive abilities, and how they relate to people.

It affects their energy, sleep, appetite, and perhaps even their pain. It’s linked to so many negative things in their lives, and so it's critical to recognize that part and treat it. We can help a person in many different ways if we aggressively treat this particular problem since it has so many distant effects. As a result, it has potential for affecting a person’s overall recovery. So for example, if the person who is working with a physical therapist has fatigue, that person is not able to work with the physical therapist as well because they’re tired. If we treat the depression, then it will be easier to work effectively with the physical therapy team.

If the person has cognitive problems – they can’t pay attention, they can’t follow information very well, they lack concentration and so forth – treating the depression could help them recover. And similarly, in a process of trying to go back to work or school, maybe the person feels hopeless. They don’t really engage with the vocational rehabilitation counselor.

If we treat the depression, maybe they’re going to be more hopeful and invigorated and positive about returning to work. And so for lots of different reasons, we think that depression can really negatively impact a person’s overall recovery, and also that treating depression has the potential to help improve their recovery overall.

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Posted on BrainLine August 7, 2018.

About the author: Charles Bombardier, PhD, MS

Charles Bombardier, Ph.D., M.S., is a board-certified clinical psychologist at the Rehabilitation Medicine Clinic at Harborview, head of the Clinical and Neuropsychology Department at UW Medicine and a UW professor of Rehabilitation Medicine. His research interests include treating major depression with exercise, counseling or medication and promoting healthy behaviors and reducing substance use in people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities.