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Traumatic Brain Injury: The Hidden Epidemic Nobody Wants to Talk About

Traumatic Brain Injury: The Hidden Epidemic Nobody Wants to Talk About

Fighting for Social Justice

Are our doctors at fault or do patients also need to be responsible advocates for their personal health? Is it possible that better health care requires effort from both sides? Unfortunately, not every clinician is going to understand the particularities of each complex brain injury. This is something that Dolly Deebs, a mother from New York, knows all too well. Her son spent most of his childhood hospitalized or in rehabilitation due to a malignant brain tumor that formed following a traumatic brain injury he sustained while playing outside with friends. After being told that his chances of survival were grim, she fought through years of misdiagnoses until she found appropriate help for his neurological issues.

“The status of doctors years ago was the status of a god. They were looked at that way because they saved people… but, they weren’t God,” her voice turning soft, “they were humans. This was the real problem — the mentalities of the doctors and patients who enabled this highest status. Questioning your doctor was disrespectful and there were many who were arrogant about their training, so people didn’t want to ask. But family members of really sick patients would not give up and continued searching for answers. That’s how the system changed, those people.”

We need to be those people. As an informed society we must reevaluate the significant TBI problem in America and be aware of the importance of our brain health. This idea is echoed by Nicole Surizon, a clinically certified Speech-Language Pathologist who spent the bulk of her career as a rehabilitation specialist for hospitalized children with brain injury.

“Previously, there wasn’t real help for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, people didn’t even fully know what it was. Now there is so much research going into understanding ASD and creating the best possible treatment plans. Funding for TBI is limited, so there needs to be more awareness of how serious of a problem it is. That’s the next step to really make change.”

Could brain injury amongst the general population be contributing to social disruption or America’s nearly 50% divorce rate? [14] Law enforcement’s displays of intense aggression? Was former Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his wife from an elevator following a violent fight because he is a monster, or was he unable to inhibit an emotional reaction due to years of brain injuries? What about evidence of dramatic increases in psychopathology among young people in America? [15]

Brain damage does not only affect relationships with friends and loved ones, but also the ability to make rational life choices and professional decisions. There can be extreme consequences to not thinking clearly when it comes to caring for your children, signing legally binding paperwork, giving instructions that affect others’ livelihood or even moving millions of dollars in business transactions. Have we really considered the ramifications of throwing huge variables like memory deficits and quickly shifting emotional states into that mix?

When the AIDS epidemic scared the world in the 1980s, awareness was spread regarding the importance of using condoms and not sharing hypodermic needles. Since useful medications didn’t exist at the time, protection meant taking preventative measures. The same is true with TBI today. Since immunizations to shield your brain from repeated blows to the head do not exist, the best options involve protecting your brain as much as possible.

Speaking Up to Support Brain Awareness

Although there needs to be more awareness of the prevalence of TBI, change is occurring. Influential athletes openly discussing their thoughts on brain injury help young people make more informed decisions around the benefits and detriments of embarking in a career that could lead to lifelong brain damage. There is no fame and glory in slipping away as friends and family sadly look at the “heroic” photos of what you once were. A professional hockey player speaks of this with dramatic insight in his recent article on living with TBI and the struggle of still feeling romanced by the game.

Image of hand holding a human brain

In early-March 2016, soccer superstar Brandi Chastain announced that she will be donating her brain to Boston University for research purposes. This move follows just months after official U.S. Soccer eliminated “heading” of balls during games with children 10 and younger. [16] The university’s specialized center has been well-known for finding the brain disease CTE in over 90 percent of brains donated by deceased former NFL players. [17] CTE, which is believed to be a product of repeated mild TBI, can’t be seen on brain imaging and is only identifiable postmortem, similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

This message is not just to make data on TBI available to the public or even to criticize the U.S. health care system’s gaps, although both are important. It is intended to ask the readers to evaluate their roles in the brain health of all people and how mental wellness affects the many interactions that occur in society. Do you or someone you know have untreated cognitive or mental health issues? How do you believe that affects drivers on the road? What effect does this have on learning and using information in meaningful ways?

Could properly caring for the brain help people be more empathetic and cooperative with one another? Is it possible to go even further and consider that handling the brain with the utmost respect can encourage peaceful living? It’s our opportunity and duty as intelligent creatures to recognize how to best preserve our livelihood and most important organ. Understanding our brains may be difficult, but humans love to investigate the great mysteries of our world, even the most challenging.

Knowing that friend and former bandmate Syd Barrett had been consumed by mental illness, Pink Floyd’s popular song Brain Damage sings, “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” Hiding in the darkness isn’t the only option. We should encourage those with hurting brains to come out. Don’t be afraid. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here waiting.

References

Ѱ Data as of YE 2010. TBI figures include an estimated 29k U.S. military service members and 2.5mm civilians, TBI figures from Congressional Research Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sources:  link 1, link 2; Diabetes figures from CDC, sources:  link 1, link 2; Drug Abuse figures from SAMHSA and NIH, sources:  link 1; link 2; Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and prostate cancer is the most prominent cancer in men, cancer figures from American Cancer Society, source:  link; HIV figures from CDC, source:  link

[1] Fischer, H. (2015, August 7). A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (Rep.). Retrieved https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Report to Congress on Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. Atlanta, GA.

[3] Horn, S., Corrigan, J., Bogner, J., Hammond, F., Seel, R., Smout, R., . . . Whiteneck, G. (2015). Traumatic Brain Injury–Practice Based Evidence Study: Design and Patients, Centers, Treatments, and Outcomes. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 96(8), S178-S196. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2014.09.042

[4] Selassie, A., Zaloshnja, E., Langlois, J., Miller, T., Jones, P., & Steiner, C. (2008). Incidence of Long-term Disability Following Traumatic Brain Injury Hospitalization, United States, 2003. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 23(2), 123-131. doi:10.1097/01.HTR.0000314531.30401.39

[5] Ilie, G., Mann, R. E., Boak, A., Adlaf, E. M., Hamilton, H., Asbridge, M., . . . Cusimano, M. D. (2014). Suicidality, Bullying and Other Conduct and Mental Health Correlates of Traumatic Brain Injury in Adolescents. PLoS ONE, 9(4).

[6] American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2010. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2010.

[7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Surveillance Report, 2014; vol. 26. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/library/reports/surveillance/. Published November 2015. Accessed March 2016.

[8] Fischer, H. (2015, August 7). A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (United States of America, Congressional Research Service, U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: OFS, OIR, OND, OIF, and OEF). Retrieved January 12, 2016, from https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf

[9] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Report to Congress on Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Epidemiology and Rehabilitation. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. Atlanta, GA.

[10] Worrall, L., Mccooey, R., Davidson, B., Larkins, B., & Hickson, L. (2002). The validity of functional assessments of communication and the Activity/Participation components of the ICIDH-2: Do they reflect what really happens in real-life? Journal of Communication Disorders, 35(2), 107-137.

[11] FOX Sports, Associated Press. (2015, November 19). Lawyers: NFL concussion lawsuit deal excludes central brain injury. Retrieved from http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/concussion-lawsuit-appeal-settlement-excludes-central-brain-injury-111915

[12] Kosman, J. (2016, February 15). Ex-NFL players: We have proof helmet maker hid concussion risks. New York Post. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2016/02/15/nfl-helmet-maker-takes-another-hit-in-concussion-lawsuit/

[13] Horn, S., Corrigan, J., Bogner, J., Hammond, F., Seel, R., Smout, R., . . . Whiteneck, G. (2015). Traumatic Brain Injury–Practice Based Evidence Study: Design and Patients, Centers, Treatments, and Outcomes. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 96(8), S178-S196. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2014.09.042

[14] CDC/NCHS National Vital Statistics System. (2015, November 23). National Marriage and Divorce Rate Trends. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage_divorce_tables.htm

[15] Twenge, J. M., Gentile, B., Dewall, C. N., Ma, D., Lacefield, K., & Schurtz, D. R. (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938–2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(2), 145-154.

[16] U.S. Soccer, Player Safety Initiative. (2015, November 9). U.S. Soccer Provides Additional Information About Upcoming Player Safety Campaign [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2015/11/09/22/57/151109-ussoccer-provides-additional-information-about-upcoming-player-safety-campaign

[17] CTE Center, Boston University. (2016). Case Studies. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/cte/our-research/case-studies/

Traumatic Brain Injury: The Hidden Epidemic Nobody Wants to Talk About


Amanda Marie Cardinale, M.Sc.

​​Amanda Marie Cardinale has a M.Sc. in Neuroscience and Education from Columbia University and a B.S. in Finance from St. John’s University. She is a private consultant focused on digital health innovation and the intersection between healthcare, technology, and entrepreneurship. Amanda previously spent over seven years as an investment professional conducting hedge fund deal making within Merrill Lynch’s Alternative Investments Group. She is an avid traveler, writer, and artist living in New York City.


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APA Reference
Cardinale, A. (2018). Traumatic Brain Injury: The Hidden Epidemic Nobody Wants to Talk About. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/traumatic-brain-injury-the-hidden-epidemic-nobody-wants-to-talk-about/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 28 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.