Depression After Brain Injury

2015-0314 Depression Art
Picture credit: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

The information in this post was reported by MSKCT, but MSKCT credited TBI Model Systems for the information.

What is depression?

Depression is a feeling of sadness, loss, despair or hopelessness that does not get better over time and is overwhelming enough to interfere with daily life. There is cause for concern when feeling depressed or losing interest in usual activities occurs at least several days per week and lasts for more than two weeks. Symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling down, sad, blue or hopeless.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
  • Feeling worthless or guilty.
  • Believing you are a failure.
  • Changes in sleep or appetite.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Tiredness or lack of energy.
  • Moving or speaking more slowly, or feeling restless or fidgety.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Please note there are many reasons you may have one or more of the listed symptoms — depression is only one of the reasons. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms for a prolonged period of time, seek help from an appropriate medical professional.

How common is depression after TBI?

Depression is a common problem after Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). About half of all people with TBI are affected by depression within the first year after injury. Nearly two-thirds of those with TBI are affected by depression within seven years of their injury. In the general population, the rate of depression is approximately 10% over a one-year period. More than half of the people with TBI who are depressed also have significant anxiety.

What causes depression after TBI?

Many factors contribute to depression after TBI, and these vary greatly by person, type of injury, and area of impact.

  • Physical changes in the brain due to injury. Depression may result from injury to the areas of the brain that control emotions, mobility, and cognitive skills. Changes in the levels of certain natural chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, can cause depression.
  • Emotional response to injury. Depression can also arise as a person struggles to adjust to temporary or lasting disability, losses or role changes within the family and society.
  • Factors unrelated to injury. Some people have a higher risk for depression due to inherited genes, personal or family history, and other influences that were present before the brain injury.


  1. Scott, do you know if there is any study that breaks this information down by age or gender? Just curious. I know this is something my son struggles with constantly. It really is heartbreaking.

    1. Meg,

      Are you looking for the study, or an infographic that summarizes a study? A few days ago, I published an inforgraphic that might summarize the information you want. Take a look at Although name of the study did not appear on the image, I am certain the data came from one or more studies. Since there is a long lag between data collection, analysis, conclusion, and publication,I am not certain when the data was collected that was used in the infographic. I am happy to search for something more specific, but I will not be able to get back to you until this weekend. ~ Scott

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