September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Why mention this in a column addressing brain injury?
Although there aren't current stats available, there is a definite correlation between brain injury and suicide. There are tragic examples of this, one being that of Ryan Waldner, who four years ago committed suicide at the age of 20. Ryan resided in Prince George.
Ryan was a vibrant, smart, healthy BMX enthusiast. His mother Liz Ferris recalls her son was focused on mastering BMX bike tricks he viewed on You Tube. He always wore a helmet, however the last two spills he took was too much, according to his mother. In addition to dislocating his shoulder twice, Liz believes her son had a concussion, possibly several that went undiagnosed.
Liz said her son didn't complain about how serious his injuries were, but his attitude changed. He developed anxiety, stopped biking and isolated himself from his friends. Ryan was prescribed medication for his anxiety, which only made his life worse. After his last biking accident, Ryan took his life within nine months.
So what is wrong with this picture?
Instead of querying a concussion, Ryan was treated by the medical system as a patient with mental health issues. Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of a concussion. After four months, if there are no improvements or if the person's symptoms become worse it is considered a brain injury. Brain injured folks including myself struggle with depression and anxiety. The two conditions come with the territory.
There is the heartwrenching tale of Taylor Pryor. In 2018, during a women's soccer game at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, she and another player collided in mid air. She sustained a concussion. Soon after she began exhibiting a severe change in personality, had sensitivity to light, lack of concentration, difficulties with vision and hearing and struggled with constant headaches, fatigue and problems sleeping.
Taylor saw at least 13 psychiatrists and five specialists. She attempted suicide over 22 times, was hospitalized on numerous occasions and prescribed many different medications. On October 17, 2019, she was discharged from hospital against her wishes and two days later was found in a wooded area close to the hospital. She was 21 years old.
This once bright, outgoing athletic and compassionate young woman had her heart set on international development, helping poor and outcast people in third world countries.
Through BIG (Brain Injured Group) I have met many people who were regarded as psychiatry patients instead of brain injury survivors. Why is head trauma not included during assessment and why are pills so freely prescribed to people?
I am grateful every day that I was one of the lucky ones. I was referred to a psychiatrist and after assessment, he told me he couldn't help me because I had symptoms of brain injury not a mental health disorder. Unlike many people, I had coordinated service delivery. Apparently this is a rare occurrence.
Last winter, I received a call from a friend whose elderly sister slipped on the ice and smashed the back of her head. I was told her sister started acting "weird.” I asked what was being done to help her and the answer was there was a referral to psychiatric services. I nearly lost my mind. I told my friend "Your sister has a concussion! She doesn't need pills!" Sadly, brain injured survivors are forced to travel on this route.
There is clearly a huge need to educate medical professionals on concussions and brain injuries. Having proper assessment questions and referrals to appropriate treatments.
Had I not had coordinated care and BIG to support and guide me, I could have easily ended up as another statistic.