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Can traumatic injury lead to the development of mental illness?

A recent study examined the connection between a major traumatic injury and the incidence of subsequent mental health deterioration in Ontario, Canada.

Traumatic injury is serious enough by itself, but oftentimes it is accompanied by an exacerbation of other symptoms. According to an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, injuries are considered to be the “neglected disease” of the era, the leading cause of death in the first three decades of life, and the cause for disability in the years after. Not only that, but a traumatic injury is strongly related to mental health outcomes in patients.

Mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression often develops after poor recovery from a major trauma. Often enough, suicide rates are reported to increase following such an event.

That said, there still remains a lack of evidence with regards to the association between traumatic injury and mental illness, with most cases not being tracked after the discharge of the patient. A study in Ontario, Canada, looked at the connection between major trauma and the risk of development of mental illness or suicidality.

To examine this relationship, the researchers looked at 19,338 patients who have survived traumatic injuries between the years 2005 and 2010. The study compared the incidence of mental illness in the five years before the injury with the 5 years following the injury. Suicide rates were also examined in the five years after the major trauma.

Of the sample studied in this research project, the vast majority was males who sustained, for the most part, blunt trauma, from accidents or falls. The study determined that 40% of patients were reported to be admitted to the hospital for at least one more mental health diagnosis. The most common diagnoses were drug or alcohol disorders, and depression. The research further determined the suicide rate in the sample to be 70 patients out of every 100,000, every year. This rate of suicidality is higher than the normal rate, being 11.5 out of 100,000 Canadians every year.

The study has also determined that there are a few specific risk factors for developing a mental illness. The subgroups with the highest risk were male, low or high socioeconomic status, and with an unintentional injury.

It is thus clear from these results that many of the patients who experience major trauma are at increased risk for subsequent mental illness. The heightened suicide risk is especially alarming. It is thus important for medical professionals to begin screening for mental health issues with patients exhibiting traumatic injury. Mental health resources should be allocated and offered specifically to this population, as prevention and treatment seem to be strongly needed.

Written by Maor Bernshtein

Reference: Evans, Christopher C.d., et al. “Mental Health Outcomes after Major Trauma in Ontario: a Population-Based Analysis.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 190, no. 45, Nov. 2018, doi:10.1503/cmaj.180368.

Maor Bernshtein
Maor Bernshtein
Maor is currently working on his BSc in psychology from York University in Toronto, Canada. He is interested in psychological research and likes to analyze results and apply them to everyday life. Maor has previously volunteered for The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and is passionate about bringing psychological knowledge back to the people. He hopes that others can benefit from psychological insights through his work and improve their overall life and well-being.


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