Depression is common among brain injury survivors, with half of all survivors experiencing it in the first year following their injury.
It can also develop as the person starts to understand the full impact of their injury, and can lead to feelings of hopelessness and altered self-esteem and identity as the survivor reflects over the changes that they are facing, and may continue to face in the future.
With expert support from Dr Elizabeth Kent and Dr Cliodhna Carroll, from Kent Clinical Neuropsychology Service, and with feedback from brain injury survivors, we’ve put together some top tips to help cope with depression.
More detailed information can be found on our factsheet Depression after brain injury.
The information provided here is not intended to replace medical advice, so if you are experiencing symptoms of depression always speak to your GP or other healthcare professional.
Try to talk to your family or friends about how you’re feeling and why you may appear to be distant. If you find it difficult to speak about how you feel, try to find other ways of communicating such as writing a letter. Consider talking to your employer about depression if you feel that it’s affecting your work performance.
Try to avoid becoming socially isolated. It’s important to spend at least some time socialising with people on a face-to-face basis. If you struggle in crowds, try to arrange meeting a friend at a quiet location. Alternatively, consider finding a local support or activity group that you can attend, such as a local Headway group or branch.
Engage in activities that you enjoy doing, such as listening to uplifting music, creating art or reading a book. Research indicates that these activities can be useful ways of coping with depression. And don’t be afraid to try something new!
Educate yourself on the effects of brain injury. Understanding your injury may be the first step towards accepting it, which might help with managing depression. The Headway website is a good place to start.
Try to exercise for a few minutes every day. This may be difficult if you experience fatigue or have limited mobility. However, exercise is a proven method of improving low mood. Try to set yourself a routine, for example taking a short walk around the neighbourhood in the morning, or doing some gentle stretches for five minutes every afternoon.
Seek support from other services such as the Headway helpline or your local Headway support group or branch. There are also depression-specific support groups, where people can get peer support from others who are also affected by depression, although these tend to be non-brain injury specific.
Identify and seek help for specific issues in your life that may be causing or contributing to the depression, for example financial or relationship problems.
Speak to your doctor about your general health, including any potential hormonal imbalances that can arise after brain injury.
Consider putting together a ‘soothe box’. This is a box that contains personal items that may make you feel better and help you to cope when you are feeling depressed. You could put things in it such as photos or letters, or things that soothe your senses such as perfumes or soft fabrics.
Consider wellbeing techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, meditation or other relaxation methods. Although there is limited research to prove their effectiveness, brain injury survivors often report benefiting from them. Speak to a therapist if you are considering trying any of these, as they may be able to guide you through learning how to effectively use them.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle. This involves enjoying a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and trying to ensure that you have a good night’s sleep.
Severe depression can cause some people to feel suicidal. This is characterised by extremely negative thoughts about oneself or the future, which can lead to the person thinking about or attempting to end their own life.
It is vital that anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts seeks help – however infrequently the thoughts occur and regardless of whether they intend to act on them.
Please, do not ignore these thoughts in the hope that they will go away.
Be honest and talk to your family or friends about how you’re feeling. Alternatively, you can speak confidentially to your GP.
You can also contact the Headway helpline on 0808 800 2244, or speak to Samaritans on its 24-hour support line 116 123.
If you are having recurring thoughts of suicide, ring NHS 111 or make an emergency appointment with your GP.
Explore the links below to access our resources on the psychological effects of brain injury.
If you would like to discuss this issue in more detail, please contact our national helpline on 0808 800 2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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