Is There a Connection Between Risk of Suicide and Brain Injury?

Posted on January 21, 2021

People with TBI, ABI, skull fracture, or concussions are nearly twice as more likely to commit suicide than those who do not have a history of any type of brain injury. The risk of suicide is highest during the first six months and remains for years, depending on the severity of the injury.

Even though, after extensive studies, the relative risk of suicide almost doubles after a TBI, the absolute risk of suicide is still low. That said, a person should seek medical help if he develops emotional problems or psychiatric symptoms to avert the risk of suicidal thoughts.

Sustaining a brain injury can be stressful

“I think it took a while before I realized, and then when I started thinking about things and realizing that I was going to be like this for the rest of my life, it gives me a really down feeling, and it makes me think like—why should I be around like this for the rest of my life?” - TBI Survivor

Brain injury causes such an upheaval of emotions in the affected individual that nothing seems to be like before. Dealing with multiple issues can wreak havoc on the brain, leaving it in a state of confusion and helplessness.

Loss of source of income, change of role within the family and society, decreased ability to function as a parent or a spouse, all these problems seem to hit hard.  

Sadly, even after support and medical help, many survivors might view suicide as an answer to their problems as they feel trapped, anxious, agitated, moody, and suffer from lack of sleep.

Recognizing the signs:

A person may initially have suicidal thoughts before actually committing suicide. However, if the person is very depressed and withdrawn, has attempted to commit suicide in the past, or writes or says,” it would have been better if I had died,” his is definitely a warning sign.

The situation may be even alarming if the person reacts catastrophically to relatively mild stress, has access to lethal weapons, pills, and has a history of drug or alcohol abuse. An evident plan or threat to commit suicide requires immediate professional help.

How others can help:

A person considering suicide is desperate for love and care. Sometimes, simply being with the person and listening to what the person has to say about themselves and their life can be very helpful. It can be reassuring for the TBI sufferer to know that you are willing to listen to them without being judgmental or critical.   

Encourage them to reach out for counseling and professional help. It is important to help the person stay socially connected with friends and family members. Feeling of isolation can trigger negative thoughts and lead to suicidal thoughts

Intervention during a crisis can include immediate telephone counseling, moving the person to a less stressful environment, and close monitoring. Medical and psychiatric treatment is a sensible option, including medication use, hospitalization, and psychological therapy.

For long term intervention, it is important that the person attends support groups or mental health case management services.