In the wake of a brain injury, emotional changes are common. About 31% of stroke survivors, and about 50% of people recovering from a moderate to severe TBI experience episodes of depression. Rates are even higher for people with post-stroke aphasia at about 68%. These emotional changes can be a result of physical brain damage caused by the injury, or can be related to the life-changing impact that these injuries often have on the survivor and their loved ones.
It’s important to note that everyone is different, and emotional experiences after brain injury may vary in severity. The intent of this article is to normalize the emotional side effects of brain injury, and bring awareness to this aspect of the recovery journey. Hopefully, when the emotional waves present themselves, you or your loved one will feel better equipped to face them.
Physical damage to the brain can result from a traumatic injury like from blunt force to the head, or an acquired injury like a stroke. These kinds of injuries cause physical damage to the brain tissue, which affects a wide range of functions, namely speech, language and cognitive skills, but emotional challenges can arise as well.
Location of physical damage
Impact on daily functions
Survivors can also experience “incomplete mourning”
Survivors can often feel, especially in the beginning stages of recovery, that they are no longer themselves. The contrast of pre and post-injury life can bring up feelings of loss. In embracing a new reality post-injury, a grieving process may be necessary. A difficult aspect of recovery is the feeling of what’s called “incomplete mourning”, where some aspects of a survivor’s life are very much the same, and some things are completely different. The change and ambiguity is difficult to process, but this emotional reckoning is a common, even foundational, part of any rehabilitation journey.
The last step in any grief process is acceptance. Acceptance means no longer resisting the reality of the situation, and no longer trying to make it different. Sadness, uncertainty, fear — all these emotions can still be present, but in a state of acceptance, feelings of loss are more manageable. Acceptance might not come immediately, but it is a great emotional goal to aim for.
Though there are a lot of changes that come in the wake of a brain injury. A critical thing to remember is that pre and post injury, you are still you. Your recovery journey is a trajectory that will offer new challenges and triumphs. And though there will be moments where emotion runs high, remember, there is agency in this process! As a survivor, you get to choose what your new goals are, the kind of life you want to lead, what kind of care you want to receive, and who your support system includes. You are still at the helm of your life.