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Symptoms and Rates of Depression after Traumatic Brain Injury

Categories: Depression

The Question

What are the most common symptoms and number of people who experience depression after traumatic brain injury?

Past Studies

Past Studies have found that individuals with traumatic brain injuries can develop depression after their injuries. Depression is a real medical condition that can be treated. Depression is not a “normal part” of every day life. Persons with depression report that they continually feel sad, irritable, tired, and uninterested in activities that they used to find enjoyable. Other common symptoms of depression include having difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, moving the body at a much slower pace, and not being able to remember things or concentrate as easily as before. In the past, research has been limited by the use of small study groups and inappropriate tests to diagnose depression. Researchers have not found consistent information about the relationship between depression and traumatic brain injury.

This Study

This Study examined 722 individuals with varying severity levels of traumatic brain injury that were referred to outpatient treatment at one facility. Although participants ranged in age from 17 to 82 years, with an average age of 36.. As a group, time since injury was approximately 2.5 years. Most of the participants were white (74%) and had received motor vehicle-related traumatic brain injuries (76%). Depressive symptoms were rated using standardized tests and widely accepted diagnostic guidelines for depression (the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV criteria and the Neurobehavioral Functioning Inventory). Forty-two per cent of the participants were rated as having major depression disorder. Major depressive disorder is characterized by many symptoms of depression, but the symptoms are more intense or severe. The most common symptoms of depression reported were: feeling exhausted- 46%, feeling frustrated- 41%, and having difficulty concentrating (38%). Almost a third of the participants reported: feeling bored and distractible; having problems with making decisions and remembering if they did things; thinking about the same thing over and over again or the inability to get their mind off of certain thoughts; and physically moving slowly.

Who May Be Affected By These Findings

Persons with traumatic brain injury, their family and friends, health care providers, health care funders, and researchers


This study used participants from one location. A large study with participants from many different locations would provide a group with different characteristics and provide results that were more generalizable.

Bottom Line

Forty-two percent of the participants in this study reported the number of symptoms required for a diagnosis of major depression disorder. The most frequent symptoms reported were exhaustion, frustration, and poor concentration. Future research should continue to develop ways to accurately gather information about depression and traumatic brain injury, as well as develop treatment plans.

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Find This Study


Kreutzer, J.S., Seel, R.T., & Gourley, E. (2001). The prevalence and symptom rates of depression after traumatic brain injury: A comprehensive examination. Brain Injury, (15), 563-576.