For those living with the dual effects of traumatic brain injury and PTSD, the combination can be overpowering.
PTSD not only cripples a person mentally and emotionally, it makes it much harder to take the right approach to their traumatic brain injury rehabilitation.
This is why it’s so important to address any signs of PTSD early on in your recovery.
It’s sometimes hard to differentiate the symptoms of TBI from PTSD though, because the two often feed off each other.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the defining characteristics of PTSD after a brain injury and show you the best ways to treat it.
Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD
PTSD normally occurs after a significantly traumatic event like combat, assault, or near-death experiences.
In the past, most doctors considered TBI and PTSD as completely separate conditions.
The thought was that, because traumatic brain injury usually involved post-traumatic amnesia surrounding the event, it was impossible for the person to experience PTSD over an injury they didn’t remember.
Nowadays though, doctors recognize that PTSD usually follows a traumatic brain injury. That’s because the injury itself is often a near-death experience, even if the person initially has no memory of the accident.
Besides problems with memory, concentration, depression and fatigue, (which are also common TBI side effects) here are a few symptoms indicative of PTSD:
- Involuntary reminiscing of the life-threatening event.
- Avoiding people and places that remind you of your injury
- Emotional numbness and feeling detached from friends and family
- Overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt
- Constantly feeling on your guard, irritable, or easily startled
- Anxiety and insomnia
- Angry outbursts
While many of these symptoms also overlap with TBI symptoms, what distinguishes PTSD is feeling immobilized by them.
In other words, you can’t ignore these feelings, and you are unable to move forward. You feel stuck, like your feet are sinking in quicksand. That is PTSD.
Treating Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD
Treating traumatic brain injury and PTSD can be tricky, and requires the oversight of a trained neuropsychologist.
One of the reasons it is so hard to treat PTSD after brain injury is because some of the traditional PTSD medications can be harmful for people with TBIs.
For example, the tranquilizing drugs that many doctors prescribe to PTSD patients to soothe their overactive brain could be dangerous if you have suffered a brain injury.
That’s why it’s so important to know whether someone’s symptoms stem from their brain injury or PTSD.
Even though there have been groundbreaking studies that show that brain scans can accurately distinguish between PTSD and TBI, it might be awhile before those scans are widely used by doctors.
In the meantime, treatment for PTSD after TBI should focus on techniques that won’t cause further harm to the damaged brain.
The following are a few examples of treatments that can be effective at treating the symptoms of both traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
1. “Talk” Therapy
Talking about your injury with someone can help you learn coping skills to find relief from your negative emotions.
Sometimes antidepressant medications used together with traditional psychotherapy is very effective for overcoming PTSD after brain injury.
Just make sure you consult a doctor familiar with your injury before you start a medication. It’s important not to take something that suppresses brain activity since that will only worsen your other TBI symptoms.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral therapy is a more intensive form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying harmful thoughts and beliefs which trigger negative feelings.
Once you identify these thoughts, a therapist will help you essentially rewire them to trigger good feelings.
It is a safe and effective intervention and highly recommended for people with PTSD.
Meditation can be an effective way to calm the mind. It can also help treat PTSD after traumatic brain injury.
It might seem weird at first, especially if you’ve done nothing like it before, but it’s worth trying and seeing if it helps your symptoms.
PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury
PTSD is a devastating condition with or without a traumatic brain injury. But it doesn’t have to be the end of your story. It doesn’t have to consume you.
Many TBI patients, by using the techniques above, have found effective ways to defeat their PTSD. As a result, they discovered a strength inside them they never knew they had.
With the right combination of treatments, you also can overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and find strength and peace again after your injury.