Suicide - Even with Traumatic Brain Injury Stigma Can Make Recovery a Rocky Road
By Lynn Patton Matthew Patton Foundation
Even with Traumatic BRAIN INJURY Stigma Can Make Recovery a Rocky Road
Last week I started a series of articles about mental health problems and stigma with the hope that we can end stigma and begin to talk about these problems as easily as we talk about something as ordinary as ice cream. Let’s start with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
A TBI is caused by sudden and violent injury to the head/brain from direct trauma (e.g., blunt force); indirect trauma (e.g., whiplash); closed versus penetrating/perforating trauma; and overpressurization trauma (e.g., an IED blast). All cause direct and indirect physical damage to the brain that disrupts structure and function. This results in multiple symptoms some of which are shared by many (e.g., headache) and symptoms unique to individuals because of differences in severity and location of the injury and various resiliency and risk factors individuals possess before and after the injury.
So, why is there stigma associated with TBI, which makes it difficult for those who suffer from one, and for those who care for them, when it is clearly a physical injury? Perhaps because depending on which part of the brain is damaged, symptoms can be physical, psychological, emotional, and/or behavioral. Ah, there we go. As soon as there are mental health disorders involved, stigma automatically becomes the starring role, in more than a few ways besides the traditional mental health-related stigma.
Stigma affects those with physical injuries, too. Those with an obvious disfigurement from a TBI will look different from the norm and many around them will stare, back away, and wonder if they function at 100%. They also suffer from what I will describe as reverse stigma that occurs when those with TBI look perfectly fine on the outside, but suffer significantly from residual symptoms from injuries invisible to the eye. People will say, “You look fine, so you are better right?” OR “You look fine, so why aren’t you better?” This places unnecessary pressure on someone facing what can be serious symptoms years later. As written last week all involved will face self-, anticipated, and social stigma that decrease quality of life and can lead to suicide. So let’s make a conscious decision right here and now to learn and talk about TBI.
For those of you who have a difficult time discussing stigma-heavy subject matter let’s give TBI an ice cream flavor. It is in the title. TBI-related stigma makes recovery a rocky road. Rocky Road Ice cream; it is the perfect flavor to associate with TBI once you understand the history of this particular flavor. The standard flavor, which we can associate with the symptoms shared by most with TBI is chocolate ice cream with walnuts and chopped or whole mini-marshmallows. Over time, many individuals changed the ingredients to suit their preferences, which we can associate with the unique individual symptoms those with TBI face. The recipe changed to include almonds and pecans instead of walnuts with marshmallow fluff or marshmallows and new ingredients like white and milk chocolate chips. So again, I say, let’s make a conscious decision right here and now to learn and talk about TBI, so it becomes as easy as talking about Rocky Road ice cream.
And yes, It really is that easy. We have the power, and quite frankly, the responsibility to end stigma and help those with TBI live their best quality life and possibly stop a suicide. Let’s make their road to recovery less rocky. It is the least we can do.
You can find more in-depth information about TBI along with credible resources at matthewpattonfoundation.org under the facts tab.