Childhood brain injury increases risk of anxiety disorders as adults, finds study

Childhood gifts a person some of the most pleasurable and fun moments of life. However, it is also a vulnerable phase when a child is growing and most of his/her cognitive functions and various organs are developing. The slightest injury can result in trauma or injury which can have serious effects that can last a lifetime. In fact, according to a recent study, a child who is exposed to some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) is likely to deal with its aftereffects in the form of mental health issues as an adult.

The study, conducted by Michelle Albicini, Technical Assistant at The University of Melbourne, was published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation in May 2017.

Past brain injuries increase risk of panic attacks and anxiety

The study examined two sets of data. The first set included data available for 169 youngsters below 18 years of age who were treated at a New Zealand hospital for a TBI, five or more years earlier. The second set included data for another group of youngsters who did not have a history of TBI but were treated for orthopedic injuries like broken arms or legs during childhood.

On analyzing the data, 65 participants from the former group were found to be affected by mild injuries, such as unconsciousness for less than 20 minutes, little amnesia, normal brain scans, and short-term hospital stays. Another 61 participants from the same group were found to have moderate to severe brain injuries with longer stay in hospital, more lasting symptoms, skull fractures and other physical evidence of brain injury visible during a brain scan.

The majority of the participants had met with their injury around 10 years ago whereas, for a few, it had been 15 years or more. For those with mild TBI and those with orthopedic injuries, the average age was found to be 10 to 11 years. The participants who had more severe TBIs were on an average seven-years-old at the time of getting injured. Other study findings included:

  • The diagnosis of the study participants for the presence for psychological disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, phobias and depression revealed that individuals with any form of TBI were five times more likely to have an anxiety disorder as compared to those without a brain injury.
  • Individuals with past brain injuries were found to be four times more likely to face some form of panic attacks, specific phobias and depression.
  • Study participants with moderate to severe brain injuries had the highest risk of developing multiple anxiety disorders at once as well as had the highest overall rate of anxiety disorders.
  • Regardless of brain injury, females were four times more likely than males to have an anxiety disorder.

It should be noted that the researchers did not analyze the participants’ anxiety before they met with an injury, which, in turn, made it difficult to determine if the anxiety they had developed was a further complication of the injury.

Treatment for anxiety disorders

The findings emphasized the need of monitoring children and adolescents’ behavior for any risk of developing anxiety disorders once they have a TBI. Albicini feels that further research is needed to analyze the risk factors for individuals who experience anxiety, depression, and other psychological effects due to brain injury. This is agreed to by experts who feel that if successful, this research can help scientists understand the brain and psychological mechanisms that lead to the development of GAD.

If you or someone you know is battling with an anxiety disorder or any other form of mental health disorder, 24/7 Mental Health Helpline can help. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with one of our mental health rehabilitation specialist who can assist you with complete information about mental health facilities in different parts of the U.S.