We’re constantly learning new things about the human brain and the neurological factors that lead people to behave in certain ways. At the same time, we understand a great deal more than we used to about mental and emotional illness, including how they can manifest from physical causes.
This is true regarding suicide, which in the past was often considered the result of purely psychological factors. Even though it’s long been known that physical changes to the brain can produce changes in emotional states, physical injuries to the brain were until recently often treated as completely separate from suicide and related phenomena, like anxiety and depression.
Recent research, however, shows that the connection between suicide and injuries to the brain is very strong. For example, a February 2016 study in the peer-reviewed medical journal CMAJ found that adults who have had a concussion are three times more likely to commit suicide compared to the rest of the population.
Below, we’ll investigate the link between brain injury and suicide. Understanding this link is important because preventive measures after a brain injury can empower victims and their families to seek help, potentially reducing the rates of suicide for people with these conditions.
What Is a Brain Injury?
Brain injuries that happen after birth are known as acquired brain injuries. Sometimes these injuries can happen due to physical trauma, but they can also arise in other ways. For example, brain injuries after a stroke, because of a tumor, or from neurotoxins would all be considered acquired brain injuries.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an external force injury that results in altered brain function. According to the Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (MIRECC), TBI is defined as:
“A bolt or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain… The severity of such an injury may range from mild… to severe… A TBI can result in short- or long-term problems with independent function.”
TBIs are more common than most people realize. Each year in the United States of America, approximately 1.4 million people sustain a TBI and 50,000 die from one. Most of the TBIs diagnosed each year are considered mild, but 80,000 to 90,000 people deal with long-term disability after the event. Furthermore, just because a TBI is labeled as “mild” doesn’t mean that it won’t have severe long-term effects.
TBI Symptoms and Suicide
The connection between TBIs and suicide may not readily be apparent until you take a closer look at the symptoms. Despite the fact that many victims regain baseline function within a year, the following TBI symptoms can sometimes persist for long periods of time:
- Motor and sensory disturbances
- Trouble with language, concentration, memory, processing, decision-making, insight, etc.
- Apathy, anxiety, irritability, insensitivity, egocentricity
- Lack of inhibition or initiation
- Impulsive, restless, aggressive, agitated behavior
Living with these symptoms long-term can lead to feelings of hopelessness and a lack of interest in life. In addition, many of the risk factors for TBI (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, risk-seeking behavior, etc.) align with those of suicide. Too often, people who suffer a brain injury when they’re already working through existing mental health issues conclude that the reality of their life after the injury is simply too difficult to handle.
Recognizing Someone Who Is at Risk of Suicide
In the period of time leading up to a suicide attempt, those at risk may have trouble with personal and professional relationships and situations. This can turn into a vicious cycle, as challenges with personal and professional relationships brought on by depression or hopelessness work to deteriorate the quality of a person’s life further. This is a critical point for the at-risk person; help is needed, and if a suffering individual does not receive intervention in a timely fashion, suicide becomes increasingly likely.
Knowing the signs that someone may be considering suicide is a crucial first step toward intervention. Signs that require immediate action include:
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself; seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means of self-harm.
- Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
Meanwhile, signs to consider and that require attention (especially if they exist alongside any of the above signs or other known risk factors) include:
- Feeling trapped (like there’s no way out)
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Dramatic changes in mood
- Withdrawing from family, friends, or society
- Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep (insomnia), or sleeping all the time (hypersomnia)
- Rage, anger, seeking revenge
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
- Displaying or stating a lack of purpose in life
If you or someone you love is considering suicide, or if you suspect someone is at risk of suicide, please get help immediately. You can reach out to a local mental health professional, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-8255, or visit the NSPL’s website and chat with a trained suicide prevention counselor at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. If you believe that a suicide attempt is imminent, call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance immediately.
In the past, suicidal ideation was often something that people were very reluctant to talk about or to encourage others to talk about. Fortunately, our society is recognizing these issues more and more, and people are learning the healing value of opening up about the complicated, personal challenges faced by TBI victims and other people at risk of suicide.
Crosley Law Fights for Brain Injury Victims
At Crosley Law Firm, many of our clients are individuals who have been in traffic accidents, and some of them sustain serious brain injuries. Part of our job is to help these people and their families in a way that will make their lives easier and more manageable after accidents and injuries. Thanks to our years of experience working with injury victims, we understand how to not only support them through their legal case, but also how to help them find the important resources that can make physical and emotional well-being into attainable goals.
If you or someone you love has experienced a traumatic brain injury or other serious injury due to someone else’s negligence, call Crosley Law Firm today. You may be entitled to compensation that can ease the burden of medical bills, lost wages, and emotional pain and suffering. To receive a free initial consultation, please complete the contact form on our website or call 210-LAW-3000 and someone from our offices will be in touch with you as soon as possible.
About brain injury. (2015). Brain Injury Association of America. Retrieved from http://www.biausa.org/about-brain-injury.htm
Fralick, M., Thiruchelvam, D., Tien, H.C., & Redelmeier, D.A. (2016, February 8). Risk of suicide after a concussion [abstract]. CMAJ. 0.1503/cmaj.150790. Retrieved from http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2016/02/08/cmaj.150790
Mental Illness, Research, Education, and Clinical Center. (2016, March 16). Traumatic brain injury and suicide: Information and resources for clinicians. Denver, CO: Mental Illness, Research, Education, and Clinical Center. Retrieved from http://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/TBI_Suicide.pdf
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