Mild TBI Raises Risk of PTSD, Depression

February 5, 2019

After a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), 1 in 5 patients went on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or major depressive disorder (MDD) within the next 6 months, according to a study published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

“Contrary to common assumptions, mild head injuries can cause long-term effects,” said researcher Murray B. Stein, MD, MPH, professor at the University of California San Diego. “These findings suggest that follow-up care after head injury, even for mild cases, is crucial, especially for patients showing risk factors for PTSD or depression.”

The study compared the rates of PTSD and/or MDD among 1155 patients treated for mild TBI across 11 emergency rooms and 230 patients treated for orthopedic injuries not involving the head.

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Using PTSD and MDD questionnaires, researchers identified the disorders in 20% of patients with mild TBI 3 months after injury, and in 21.2% of patients 6 months after mild TBI. In comparison, the mental health disorders were present in 8.7% of patients with orthopedic injuries alone 3 months after the injury, and in 12.1% of patients 6 months after orthopedic injury.

When researchers examined risk factors for PTSD and MDD after mild TBI, they found lower educational levels, self-identifying as black, and a history of mental illness increased risk. Additionally, the risk of developing PTSD, but not MDD, was higher when the mild TBI was caused by an assault or other violence.  

Other injury-related occurrences, such as duration of loss of consciousness and post-traumatic amnesia, were not associated with an increased risk of PTSD or MDD, according to the study.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Stein MB, Jain S, Giacino JT, et al. Risk of posttraumatic stress disorder and major depression in civilian patients after mild traumatic brain injury: a TRACK-TBI study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 January 30;[Epub ahead of print].

Mental health disorders common following mild head injury [press release]. Bethesda, Maryland: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; January 30, 2019.