Back to The Basics: Mental Health and Brain Injury

Injuries to our brains can affect every aspect of our lives. From the way we see the world to the way we understand it, there’s a lot of change. Brain injury is sometimes an entirely separate issue to mental health, but brain injury can lead to new mental health symptoms developing, and mental health issues can make brain injury symptoms worse.

There are a lot of mental health conditions that come with brain injuries – most commonly depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This Mental Health Month, we want to take it back to basics and bring awareness to this overlap between brain injury and mental health.

The Basics

While many symptoms of a brain injury overlap with those of a mental health disorder, not all mental health issues that develop after a brain injury are severe enough to be considered “disordered.” There are many symptoms caused by a brain injury that are also typical for different types of mental health disorders. You can learn more in depth about these diagnoses in our Brain Injury and Mental Health Quick Guide.

Depression after a Traumatic Brain Injury

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed ( Depression is a common problem after a TBI.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling down, sad, blue or hopeless
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or that you are a failure
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Moving or speaking more slowly, or feeling restless or fidgety
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

There are a variety of different factors that contribute to depression after a brain injury, including:

  • Injury to the areas of the brain that control emotions
  • Struggling to adjust to temporary or lasting disability, losses or role changes within the family, and society
  • Inherited genes, personal or family history, and other influences that were present before the brain injury

You can learn more about depression after a brain injury and treatment options in Depression after Traumatic Brain Injury and Depression & Brain Injury.


Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. There may also be physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat ( It’s normal to feel intense anxiety and stress following a life-changing event such as a brain injury.

Symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Social issues

You can learn more about anxiety in Managing Anxiety after Brain Injury.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping (Mayo Clinic). It is a relatively common occurrence after brain injury, and often goes undiagnosed. Additionally, because there are many TBI and PTSD symptoms that overlap with one another, survivors with a history of undiagnosed PTSD commonly report having been told that their TBI symptoms are “more severe than they should be” or are “lasting longer than they should.”

Symptoms include:

  • Avoiding trauma-related thoughts or feelings
  • Feeling “on edge,” “wired,” and/or “reactive”
  • Moods and thoughts that are overwhelmingly negative
  • Inescapable, frightening thoughts of danger that occur frequently

The biggest challenge that comes from having both PTSD and TBI is the significant overlap of symptoms. These include: frustration, confusion, irritability, losing train of thought, misplacing things, loss of interest in people and activities, and feeling sad or blue. These can be expected following either brain injury or development of PTSD. When a person has both TBI and PTSD, these overlapping symptoms are experienced with a much greater intensity.

Learn more about treatment options, resources, and support in Understanding TBI and PTSD.

There is Hope

The world after a TBI may feel scary, lonely, and confusing. However, you are not alone. BIAV offers a variety of resources and support for individuals with brain injuries, their families, and caregivers. Explore our How We Help page and our Resource Library and Directory. Our Resource Directory is full of providers with experience in brain injury.

Blog Image - back to the basics