Brain Injury Accidents and Mental Illness
For victims of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and their families, side effects such as bipolar disorder and memory loss are tragic, but well known and well understood. But in the last decades, scientists have begun to study another serious side effect of brain damage that may go undetected: schizophrenia.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia (Greek for 'shattered mind') is a psychotic disorder that affects behaviour, mood and thinking. Originally called the schizophrenias due to the association of several varying characteristics and personalities common with the illness. A misperception that all schizophrenics hear voices is actually untrue. It is a symptom in some suffering from schizophrenia but not all. Psychologists break symptoms of schizophrenia into three categories:
Positive symptoms are behaviours that are not present in normal individuals. They include auditory hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder, or disorganized thinking.
Negative symptoms are symptoms showing loss of normal abilities. They include loss of ability to show or feel emotion, lack of motivation and trouble with speaking.
Neurocognitive defects are problems with brain function in areas such as memory, problem-solving, attention and social functioning.
Schizophrenia Related to Brain Injury in Patients
Scientists have established that psychiatric conditions such as bipolar and anxiety disorders are more common in patients who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries. We also know that patients with schizophrenia have a high incidence of past brain damage, regardless of whether they have other strong predictors for schizophrenia, such as a family history of the disorder or maleness. But it is only since the early 1990s that researchers have begun to explore in depth that connection between brain damage caused by traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia and Brain Injury: Recent Studies
Among the findings of those studies:
TBI-associated schizophrenia is true schizophrenia, not another disorder with similar symptoms, according to a 2001 study by Columbia University. Schizophrenia and TBI are now being associated as hand-in-hand illnesses, one usually occurs in the victim of the other.
Another study in the same year at the University of New South Wales in Australia discovered that TBI patients with schizophrenia-like psychosis had more widespread brain damage and cognitive impairment than TBI patients without psychosis. It also suggested that a family history of schizophrenia and the severity of the brain damage sustained during TBI increased the risk of schizophrenia.
Scientists at the Hawaii State Hospital found in 2002 that it took an average of four to five years after a traumatic brain injury for psychosis to manifest, with most cases arriving within two years. The scientists in that study proposed that damage to frontal and temporal areas of the brain, and to the system that regulates dopamine, can cause psychosis.
While the complex nature of schizophrenia makes its cause unclear, as the last study suggests, there is evidence to believe that brain injury directly causes schizophrenia, by damaging the areas of the brain that control higher functions. There is also evidence that a traumatic brain injury may cause psychosis indirectly. Scientists believe that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility to the disease and an emotionally or physically traumatic experience that triggers this susceptibility. Some studies exploring the two conditions suggest that traumatic brain injury and its complications may act as such a trigger.
Many physicians know a traumatic brain injury may cause neurocognitive disorders such as trouble with speech, and psychiatric problems like bipolar disorder, but not all are aware of the growing evidence linking schizophrenia with brain damage. It is imperative that after a TBI accident, that a victim consult a psychiatrist to ensure that they return to normal behaviour. In addition, brain injury patients and their families should consult an experienced brain injury attorney as they seek to recover costs for expenses such as lost wages, current medical costs and future medical care.
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