Developing depression after a concussion sounds unusual, but can be more common than you might think.
Concussions can affect you on both a physical and mental level. If physical symptoms become chronic, they can also cause a decline in your mental health.
Depending on the severity of the injury, a concussion can affect your ability to function, whether it’s in regards to work responsibilities or activities you once enjoyed. This can lead to a low mood, behavior changes, and depression.
Whether you or someone you know has had a concussion, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of both the concussion and possible depression.
Concussions can come from sports injuries, car crashes, falls, or any situation where a person takes a hard hit to the head.
Symptoms of a concussion can include:
- loss of balance
- blurry vision
“The signs and symptoms of concussion reported within 1 to 7 days post-injury typically fall into four categories — physical (somatic), cognitive, emotional (affective), and sleep — and patients will experience one or more symptoms from one or more categories,” Sam Goldstein, PdD, a neuropsychologist, explains.
If you’re unsure if someone you know has a concussion, here are some signs to look for:
- loss of consciousness
- inability to remember events before or after the incident
- seeming to be in a daze
- replying slowly
- changes in mood
If they show any of the above symptoms, you may want to encourage them to seek medical help.
The physical symptoms of a concussion can be debilitating. This change can affect a person’s ability to enjoy life, which can cause depression. In a 2018 study, 1 in 5 participants met the criteria for a major depressive episode within 6 months of sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
“It isn’t common to be depressed after a concussion, but it does happen,” says Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical College and host of “How Can I Help?” from iHeartRadio.
“Depression doesn’t usually occur right away after a concussion,” Saltz continues. Depression from a concussion, she says, usually occurs later as the symptoms of a concussion disrupt a person’s usual routine.
This loss alone can cause some people to develop depression.
Concussions can also alter hormones. In rare circumstances, changes in hormone levels caused by a concussion can result in depression. Additionally, people who have had depression in the past may have a reoccurrence of depression after a concussion, Saltz adds.
“Lack of sleep from a concussion can increase depression, hormonal changes in the thyroid or other hormones can cause depression… and emotional responses to ongoing pain like headache can increase depression,” Saltz explains.
When severe physical symptoms persist, there’s a chance it will have a negative effect on your mood and overall mental health.
Goldstein explains three causes of post-concussion depression. “For some, it is a further symptom of concussion. For others, it is a consequence of chronic pain. Finally, for some, [it’s] a consequence of life changes due to the concussion.”
Signs of depression can include:
- feelings of sadness
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- difficulty concentrating
- changes in sleep pattern
If you notice these changes in you or someone you know, you may want to consider treatment.
One first step is to screen for hormonal disturbances, which can then be treated.
“If hormones are normal then treatment is the same as for any depression,” says Saltz. She recommends starting with talk therapy and possibly medication. “Talking through the frustrations you may be experiencing with a change in your brain functions is important for anyone experiencing post-concussion depression,” she says.
To take a look at your hormone levels, contact your doctor or another healthcare professional for a test. If your hormone levels are normal, you may want to look into therapy to treat depression.
A concussion can affect your body and health in many different ways, such as making you feel “foggy” or dizzy. But when concussion symptoms interfere with your usual routine or affect the way you function on a daily basis, it can lead to depression.
If you suspect depression after a concussion, treatment options are available. Therapy, especially from a professional who specializes in depression, is a good place to start. To find one, contact a doctor or clinic in your area.
You can also reach out to a friend for a recommendation if you feel comfortable doing so.
Your doctor or therapist may also prescribe medication to further treat your depression, and in some cases, hormonal treatment may be required.
- Goldstein S. (2022). Personal interview.
- Saltz G. (2022). Personal interview.
- What Is a Concussion? (2019).