August 25, 2016

Mental recovery equally important for concussion patients

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Minimize light. Turn your phone and computer off. No screens, no noise. No more than a few hours of visitors every day, at least for the first little while.

This was the matter-of-fact, clinical advice I was given after a severe blow to the head resulted in a lengthy hospital stay and a serious concussion.

For anyone who’s received treatment for a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in Canada, this isolation protocol will be all too familiar.

However, while isolation treatment places a heavy focus on physical recovery, it ignores the alarming impact of TBIs on mental health. Concussions often severely increase a patient’s risk factors for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Treatments for a concussion often vary, and may last for an indeterminate amount of time. Isolating patients with no solid deadline for recovery can severely exacerbate developing mental health conditions.

My own recovery nearly two years ago was grueling. The isolation period was two months. As someone who revels in light, sound and the company of others, I was frustrated and angry.

With every step forward, it felt like I was taking two steps back. But the physical pain paled in comparison to feeling lonely and unable to speed up the process. There were days where I wanted to scream over the complete lack of control.

However, during this time, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by individuals who cared about my emotional and psychological needs, ensuring I wasn’t left in the dark while my brain healed.

That support system doesn’t exist for every patient. Assuming it does is negligent and dangerous, especially considering a study released in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last month that linked concussion patients to 20 years of suicide occurrences.

Head injuries can cause disruptions in serotonin pathways, which increases impulsivity, depression, pain perception and sleep disturbances, according to a Toronto physician quoted in a CBC report.

These mental effects are as severe as the physical aftermath of brain injuries, but even more long-term. However, while treatment focuses on physical symptoms, a patient’s mental well-being receives little to no concern.

If the medical system continues to rely on individuals to address the mental effects of TBIs, rather than licensed professionals, many patients will slip through the cracks.

667 concussion patients committed suicide between 1992 and 2012. We owe it to them to look into more compassionate treatment and follow-up options, rather than brushing their memories under the rug.

Victoria is one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors. She’s a third-year English and Drama medial. 

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