Concussions and Mental Health in Women

Whether you’re an athlete, had an accident, or had some other unfortunate bang in your brain, there’s nothing like the discomfort of a concussion.

Often times, these injuries go undocumented or are brushed off because they are less tangible than many other injuries. Unfortunately, concussions can come with long-term symptoms that can affect people for years.

One of the biggest ways that concussions can affect people in the long term is their mental health.

We’re here to investigate how concussions affect the mental health of cis women and those assigned to women at birth (AFAB).

What exactly is a concussion?

First, let’s break down the basics of a concussion.

When the head is bumped, bumped, or hit, the brain can jump around in the skull, resulting in a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), also known as a concussion. The resulting chemical changes can potentially damage and stretch brain cells.

This may cause a temporary loss of consciousness or a feeling of lightheadedness, confusion, or numbness. While we tend to hear about concussions related to athletes, they can potentially happen to anyone of any age at any time.

Common concussion symptoms

It is not always immediately obvious when someone gets a concussion and symptoms may be slow to develop or change over time.

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but here are some tell-tale signs of a concussion.

  • Confusion: Especially around the event or a kind of everyday cloudiness.
  • Lack of coordination: Change in coordination and agility.
  • Fatigue: Everyday tasks can be difficult to complete as you get tired easily.
  • Unconsciousness: Even if it’s only for a short time.
  • A headache: These may resemble a migraine or feel more like a tension headache, starting in the neck.
  • Nausea: What can be associated with a change in appetite.
  • Sensitivity to light and noise: This is one of the most common symptoms and it causes people to stay in bed without the lights going out when they are healed from a concussion.
  • Emotional disorders: A change in mood or personality that may be similar to anxiety and / or depression.

Cure from a concussion

Immediate treatment for concussions outside of seeking medical help is mostly about rest.

As difficult as it may be in the lifestyle of many, returning to regular activity too soon after a TBI can affect your body’s ability to heal.

It is also recommended to avoid alcohol and caffeine. Your doctor may recommend certain supplements to help you heal your brain.

Concussion effects between the sexes

The biological male and female brain differ in their structure, processing, blood flow, brain activity and chemistry. Gender identity aside, it’s one reason to believe that concussions can affect the biological sexes differently.

One of the main areas in which researchers have been able to examine these differences is in sport, where men and women have the same rules – like football. Based on these studies, women are almost twice as likely to have a concussion as their male counterparts. You will also experience longer periods of recovery from a concussion, along with more severe symptoms.

Military women who develop TBI are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.

Concussions and Mental Health

People who have had a concussion may have increased levels of depression, anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and anger – without making the direct correlation that comes from a concussion.

Sleep disorders are a common symptom in both sexes and can lead to depression and anxiety, as well as complications with cognition. Even with normal sleep patterns, many people will experience mental and emotional changes after a concussion.

It is difficult to come up with definitive evidence of the long-term effects of concussions as most of these symptoms are self-reported, especially when related to the effects they have on daily activities.

Other than examining the symptoms and the incident itself, there are no specific biomarkers or ways to specifically test for a concussion. In some cases, a CT scan can be done, but this is not common and may not necessarily help the healing process.

While these symptoms are self-reported, women have higher rates of depression and stress after a concussion. This may be due to the biological differences between male and female brains, although the jury has not yet decided on this issue.

Knowing about these long-term effects for women can help providers and researchers focus on how to develop more specific and effective healing protocols while taking biological differences into account.

Healing from a concussion can be incredibly frustrating. Months of just not feeling like yourself or being able to do as much as you normally can can be incredibly stressful. As difficult as it may be, one of the most important things you can do is give yourself patience and time.

For more in-depth support, there are TBI specialists who can provide you with appropriate healing tools, as well as mental health providers who can assist you on your healing path.

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