Decline in Social Status Post TBI Affects Brain Recovery
TBI is a form of brain damage that decreases the number of healthy brain cells and disrupts functional brain networks. If it is serious enough a TBI can cause disability with job and income loss leading to loss of socio-economic status and self-esteem. When you can’t work and you can’t pay your bills it is a sad fact of life that many people will treat you less well. It turns out that social stress actually decreases the ability of the brain to produce new cells to replace the ones that have died or suffered damages.
At the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology this month the Society for Neuroscience presented scientific evidence showing that people and animals under social stress (due to living in chaotic environments or being forced into submissive roles in the social hierarchy by more dominant beings) show brain abnormalities. The new findings include the following:
- Adult rats living in disrupted environments produce fewer new brain cells than rats in stable societies, supporting theories that unstable conditions impair mental health and cognition
- People who have many friends have certain brain regions that are bigger and better connected than those with fewer friends. It’s unknown whether their brains were predisposed to social engagement or whether larger social networks prompted brain development
- Defeats heighten sensitivity to social hierarchies and may exacerbate brain activity related to social anxiety
“Social subordination and social instability have been associated with an increased incidence of mental illness in humans,” said press conference moderator Larry Young, PhD, of Emory University, an expert in brain functions involved with social behavior. “We now have a better picture of how these situations impact the brain.” What does this mean for TBI survivors? For those who have access to rehabilitation services that can return them to useful, personally meaningful work it makes sense to go for it, because returning to work may decrease anxiety and promote healthy brain repair. What about people who are too injured to return to work? It is possible to decrease anxiety through psychotherapy, meditation practice or prayer practice designed to increase self-acceptance. From experience I know that a person can find something valuable within herself even she cannot work even if this requires help from a psychologist, mental health counselor, clergy or chaplain.