Mental Health Risks After A Concussion: Depression & Other Causes For Concern

Updated January 27, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons defines a concussion as a brain injury that "results in temporary loss of normal brain function." Individuals who experience concussions generally do so after a very direct strike to their head. The physical impacts of a concussion are generally given more attention than the mental health risks. However, the brain controls virtually every other part of the body, and one’s physical and mental health can be heavily interconnected. Therefore, even a temporary loss of regular functions within the brain can cause mental health issues. If you or someone you love has experienced a concussion, it can be important to stay aware of the potential mental health challenges that may result. 

Are You Noticing The Mental Side Effects Of A Concussion?

A Brief Overview Of Concussions

While concussions vary in severity and nature, many doctors have affirmed that a concussion should not be classified as "minor," regardless of its degree. While one concussion may not cause long-lasting physical damage, the more concussions someone experiences increase the likelihood of permanent harm. Physical fights and intense sports are linked to the development of concussions; however, this does not mean that everyone who plays sports or gets into a fistfight will experience a concussion.


Not all medical exams are able to tell when someone has experienced a concussion. Nevertheless, there are three regular themes associated with concussions. Struggles with a series of physical motions, the lack of ability to retain coherent thoughts, and high susceptibility to distractions are standard indicators of a probable concussion. Sometimes, an individual or the people around them may have trouble determining whether a concussion is present. When in doubt, it can be important to see a doctor.

Additional indicators of a concussion can include loss of memory, vomiting, ringing in the ears, loss of senses, and a lack of balance. People who have recently undergone concussions may furthermore experience headaches and problems with their vision. As you can imagine, concussions of any nature can be serious. Anything which causes the loss of brain functions ought to be regarded seriously, even if this loss is temporary.

Reviewing Mental Health Risks after a Concussion

According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 20% of people who undergo concussions subsequently experience mental health conditions. Depending on the cause and specific nature of the concussion, these individuals may also be vulnerable to the development of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of course, there are many factors involved that determine which mental health issues one experiences following a concussion; however, a history of mental health disorders can surge an individual's susceptibility in the wake of a concussion.

Risk Factors

Why are approximately 20% of people who experience concussions more likely to develop mental health conditions than the remaining 80%? It turns out that risk factors play a very significant role in the statistical discrepancies, as documented by Complete Concussion Management. The state of an individual's lifestyle, overall mental health, and the way they handle themselves after a concussion can significantly impact whether additional mental health issues follow after the initial incident.

One of the leading risk factors includes the existing presence of mental health issues. This is especially applicable to individuals who already have a history of depression, anxiety, or other serious issues. The presence of mental health issues serves as a major risk factor because concussions can worsen the dormant problems that someone is already struggling with. Not every person with mental health issues who undergoes a concussion will see these issues get worse, but the possibility of this occurrence increases their risk.

Lifestyle factors can also be a contributing risk factor. Human interaction can make a very significant difference, especially when someone is working to come back from a concussion. In many cases, it can be tempting for people to close themselves off from others or isolate themselves, but this can have damaging impacts in the future. Being around people you care for and getting out into the world for safe, low-risk activities is healthy and can prevent the development of depression, loneliness, and other negative states.

Following a concussion, the recovery process can be imperative. In many cases, proper recovery demands manual therapy, exercise therapy, or a combination of both. Of course, as previously stated, lifestyle and healthy interactions with other people play a role and can make a significant difference. The chronological recovery time after a concussion can vary; no one should feel the need to rush the process.


Taking the proper steps to avoid the aforementioned risk factors can be imperative. However, precautions do not always lead to prevention. There are still certain cases where individuals who undergo concussions are later subjected to mental health issues, such as depression. Depending on the extent of the concussion, the depression may be mild or temporary, but in other cases, someone may undergo depression for considerable periods of time.

If an individual experiences depression following a concussion, seeking help from a doctor may be strongly advised. There are various therapy options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or even talk therapy which can help patients overcome depression and return to living a happy, fulfilling life. Another treatment option for depression after a concussion may also be medication. It's important to note that only professionals should be issuing diagnoses or treatments of any kind, and you should always speak with a doctor before starting or stopping a new medication.

Issues With Thought Processing

Due to concussions' interference with brain functions, individuals who experience this trauma are at risk of issues related to thinking and processing thoughts. These problems are most likely to manifest within the first 12 weeks after a concussion. The combination of thought-processing issues with problems such as depression can worsen both symptoms. As with depression, a person who experiences cognitive issues can seek support by informing their doctor of the issue. Thinking is one of the most basic abilities which is necessary to function in everyday life.


Experiences of fatigue are common in cases of individuals who have gone through concussions. While many concussions are possible to recover from, healing from the trauma inflicted upon the brain is still necessary. In many cases, fatigue is the body's way of shutting down and attempting to heal. Anyone who has recently gone through a concussion is advised to get increased amounts of rest and sleep, regardless of whether fatigue has manifested.

Taking Steps To Avoid Concussions

There are many preventative measures that people should be aware of when trying to avoid concussions. Taking the right precautions can save people from a lot of mental health issues and daily life disruptions. Attempting to come back from a concussion inevitably requires other things to be put on the back burner, at least temporarily.

Avoiding concussions ultimately boils down to safety measures. Wearing seatbelts while driving or riding in a vehicle, putting on headgear during sports or other activities with heavy physical contact, and placing grab bars in areas where people can fall down can be effective first steps. Reducing the likelihood of experiencing a concussion is one of the most powerful ways to avoid the various mental health issues which tend to follow.

Are You Noticing The Mental Side Effects Of A Concussion?

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

Whether you’ve recently experienced a concussion or not, it can be important to pay attention to your mental health. If you’re having new or worsening symptoms that you feel unable to solve on your own, you’re not alone. Connecting with a counselor through BetterHelp, an online therapy platform, may help you heal and move forward more effectively. Online therapy can make it easier and more convenient to get quality support. If you’re recovering from a medical condition like a concussion, it may be more difficult to leave the house, or you might be limited by not being able to drive. However, with online counseling, you can receive care from the comfort of your home and connect in a way that feels right for you.

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling

Research has shown that online counseling can be an effective resource for those with cognitive impairments. One study found that “people with a history of mTBI and cognitive impairment…showed significant improvement in cognitive function” after using an online intervention. These included measures such as improved mental health, the accuracy of information processing, cognitive speed, and more. 

The Takeaway

Concussions and other types of brain injuries can pose serious risks to your mental well-being. Recognizing these risks can help keep you safe. Should you notice that you’re acting differently after a concussion or experiencing unusual changes in your cognitive abilities, it can be important to reach out to a professional. Working with an online therapist—from wherever you might be—you can get an assessment of your symptoms and discuss a possible treatment plan. Brain injuries can be life-altering, but you can take steps to help ensure their impact doesn’t negatively affect your mental well-being.

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

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