Years ago, brain injury was known as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and was the result of a blow or jolt to the head such as from a fall or hitting one’s head in a car crash. The term used now is acquired brain injury caused from tumour, aneurysm, stroke, a blow or jolt to the head, concussions, near-drowning, and falls. A blow to the head can result from a bike or a motor vehicle crash, a sporting or small wheeled vehicle incident, abuse or a fall.
You do not have to lose consciousness to sustain a brain injury. The effects of a brain injury are often lifelong and debilitating. A brain injury can result in cognitive and behavioural problems and include personality changes, memory loss, and the inability to return to work.
1.5 million Canadians live with a brain injury – these are only the documented cases. The numbers are greater when considering domestic violence, dangerous substance use, and those who have gone undiagnosed although they sought medical help.
The current economic burden of acquired brain injury, combined with treatment, is an estimated $12.7 billion per year (Northern Brain Injury Association).
Over 80% of those incarcerated have a brain injury and 60% of this group suffered their first brain injury as a child and often at the hand of abuse (John Simpson).
52% of the homeless have sustained a brain injury and over 70% of this population became homeless after their first brain injury.
Brain Injury Survivors are at risk for significant mental health and addiction challenges, yet they are often denied service.
The incidence and prevalence of brain injury surpasses HIV/Aids, Spinal Cord Injury, Breast Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis combined.
The Intersections of Mental Health Addictions and Brain Injury
Brain injury is a leading cause of homelessness, mental health issues, high-risk substance use and addictions. These social issues are plaguing our cities and placing a massive strain on our medical and emergency services budget.
Our video Surviving the Perfect Storm: Mental Health, Addictions & Brain Injury shows a clear link between these three issues. Sustained injuries as a result of some type of brain injury continues to rise and the cost to handle the ripple effects are far reaching with escalating costs not readily cited by current health agencies. The current economic burden of acquired brain injury, combined with treatment, is $12.7 billion per year (Northern Brain Injury Association). We are already spending the money on acute care, emergency services, policing, and the prisons. If we address the three issues together, we can reduce the burden to taxpayers. It’s a matter of pay now, or pay later.
In many cases, persons living with brain injury may experience depression and anxiety often spiraling down to drug and alcohol abuse as coping mechanisms. Due to inadequate support systems in the current health initiatives, those suffering have relied on family and friends and where those supports are lacking the situation can quickly escalate to dire outcomes, as we’ve witnessed on our city’s streets and shelters. A survivor of brain injury has a 200% greater chance of struggling with addictions and without proper services and supports the risk of suicide increases to 400%.
Currently, mental health issues, addictions and brain injury are dealt with separately, yet studies indicate there are direct links to all three. The Mental Health Commission recently released the National Final Report on Housing First[i] and identified that 66% of the participants in the study have sustained one or more traumatic brain injuries involving unconsciousness (p16). A Toronto based study found that 52% of the homeless have suffered a brain injury and upwards of 69% of that group became homeless after their first brain injury.[ii]
The rising number of incidents and associated costs are both staggering and frightening.
Brain injury is a major crisis in Canada. There are over 1 million Canadians living with the outcome of a brain injury. The incidence and prevalence of brain injury surpasses HIV/Aids, Spinal Cord Injury, Breast Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis combined.
Brain injury remains the orphan in our healthcare system. No one wants it yet everyone assumes someone else is taking care of it. It’s time to change.