While your body remembers the impact of a traumatic event, your brain is more forgetful after suffering traumatic brain injuries that can damage neural connections, executive functioning, and emotion regulation. Traumatic Brain Injuries can be caused by a variety of external sources, including concussions, sports, car accidents, falls, military service, or assaults. As the causes of TBIs, vary, the effects of the injury may vary depending on which part of the brain is affected. With a wide definition of traumatic brain injuries varying in impact, it is surprising that they are the leading cause of mortality in children. As the teenage brain is still developing, damage to parts of the brain that are already developed can have significant consequences that may not appear until later in life. There is a high comorbidity between traumatic brain injuries and emotional issues due to the intense and unpredictable nature of the injury and the areas of the brain damaged associated with emotional regulation and executive functioning.
Investigating the Emotional Brain
Neuroscientists became interested in the relationship between traumatic brain injuries and emotional issues with the case of the patient Phineas Gage, a railroad employee who had an accident with a tamping iron rod at work that had gone through his left eye and frontal lobe. Following the accident, he experienced a significant personality change, turning into a short-fused, impulsive drunk. They were able to conclude that although most parts of the brain worked together in circuits, some functions or emotions were localized in specific areas and that damage in these areas would lead to diminished function.
Manifestation of Emotional Issues After a Traumatic Brain Injury
According to Lindsey Armstrong, a research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital, only 59% of children with TBIs can expect to be symptom-free in five years. Around 39% of patients develop neuropsychiatric symptoms immediately following the injury, such as headaches, depression, anxiety, intellectual disabilities, seizures, and brain damage. As the cause of these psychiatric symptoms aren’t natural, they may manifest in different ways than mental disorders with the same symptoms. However, psychologists use a comprehensive approach to address changes in cognitive functioning, impulse control, and emotional regulation. Their goal is to rehabilitate changes in functioning by retraining their brains to strengthen neural connections and to adapt to any significant changes that may have occurred.
The most common symptoms after a traumatic brain injury are related to cognitive and perceptual skills, including memory loss, confusion, responsiveness, concentration, processing speed, language processing, sensory difficulties, fatigue, lack of motivation, and lack of awareness of cognitive changes. The recovery process can be long and trying, which contributes to lowered self-esteem and increased hopelessness.
Rebuilding Emotional Awareness
Teenagers with social-cognitive deficits process information different from their peers and require new perspectives to learn the same skills. Self-determination, or the ability to guide one’s own life, is the main goal for recovery. For teens, TBIs have disrupted their everyday lives in many aspects. In addition to gaining social skills and independent living skills in adolescence, they are faced with several challenges related to the injury. The first step is learning more about how they’ve been impacted.
Many people struggle to experience a full range of emotions or are unable to make rational decisions related to coping with emotions due to the disconnect. They may also struggle to understand how other people experience emotions based on reading body language or difficulty communicating. Due to changes in the brain, different areas may struggle to relay messages to each other, which contributes to teens feeling more easily overwhelmed or overstimulated. New Focus emphasizes learning how to identify emotional responses, communicating one’s needs, building emotional intelligence, and learning healthy ways to manage uncomfortable emotions considering the processing differences of their students.
New Focus Academy can help
New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center with academic support for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with neurodevelopmental disorders, traumatic brain injuries and emotional issues. The mission of the program is to use positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. We teach students methods to improve their functional living skills including self-care, homework, chores, and leisure planning. We help to empower these students by teaching and practicing social, coping, organizational, and self-care skills in a small, safe environment. If your teen is struggling with emotional issues after a traumatic brain injury, call (435) 383-4369 for more information.