Brain Injury and Mental Health

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Ontarians with traumatic brain injury are more likely to experience psychological distress.
Posted On: October 07, 2022
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Dr. Vincy Chan, Assistant Scientist at the KITE Research Institute and the lead author of the study.

Traumatic brain injuries can result from a fall, motor vehicle collision, or hard strike from an object or person. A recent study led by Dr. Vincy Chan at KITE Research Institute has found that people with a history of traumatic brain injury are much more likely to experience psychological distress than people without. The research team suggests that adapting existing community services would be a great opportunity for supporting these individuals.

“Unfortunately, gaps in health care persist for individuals with traumatic brain injury who also experience mental health challenges, despite the importance of early intervention and access to mental health services in preventing poor outcomes,” says Dr. Chan. “These gaps can be caused by barriers relating to social factors like income, employment, education or marital status.”

To examine how social factors, psychological distress and traumatic brain injury are related, the researchers analyzed data from a phone survey conducted between 2014 and 2017 on the mental health of 7,214 adult Ontarians.

Among the more than 1,000 survey participants who reported a history of traumatic brain injury, 30% of males and 40% of females said they experienced moderate to severe psychological distress. In contrast, such distress was reported by 18% of males and 24% of females without traumatic brain injury.

For individuals who reported having experienced traumatic brain injury, the types of social factors connected to psychological distress differed by sex. For example, lower income was a more frequent source of distress in males, while living in a rural area was a more frequent source in females.

“These results highlight the importance of considering sex and gender in the design and interpretation of studies, to inform health care solutions that are sensitive to the unique needs of males and females,” says Dr. Chan.

The team also found that the social factors associated with psychological distress were similar in adults with and without traumatic brain injury.

“Given the finite and competing demands for mental health care and resources, adapting existing services in the community may be an opportunity to support those who have experienced traumatic brain injury,” notes Dr. Chan. “This would maximize the benefit to those with injuries and reduce the negative impact of psychological distress on treatment outcomes.”

This work was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Canada Research Chairs program, and received an award at the 2019 American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine Conference. Dr. Vincy Chan is an Assistant Professor (Status) in the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation and the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto. Dr. A. Colantonio holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Traumatic Brain Injury in Underserved Populations.

Chan V, Marcus L, Burlie D, Mann RE, Toccalino D, Cusimano MD, Ilie G, Colantonio A. Social determinants of health associated with psychological distress stratified by lifetime traumatic brain injury status and sex: Cross-sectional evidence from a population sample of adults in Ontario, Canada. PLoS One. 2022 Aug 31. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273072.

Accessible and affordable mental health support could significantly benefit individuals with traumatic brain injuries, who are more likely to experience psychological distress.