TBI Model System study finds little impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health of individuals with chronic traumatic brain injury
East Hanover, NJ. May 10, 2023. Comparing pre-pandemic and COVID-19 pandemic data from the federally funded Traumatic Brain Injury Model System (TBIMS), researchers found no significant changes in the prevalence, severity, and correlates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies in individuals with chronic traumatic brain injury.
Their article, "Depression, anxiety, and suicidality in individuals with chronic traumatic brain injury before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: A National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems Study," (DOI: 10.1016/j.apmr.2022.10.017) was published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation on January 9, 2023.
The retrospective cohort study included 7,009 participants in the TBIMS National Database who completed mental health questionnaires before (January 2017 – February 2020) and during (April 2020 – June 2021) the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collected included self-report measures: Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) for depression, the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) for anxiety, and the Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised (SBQ-R) for suicidal tendencies.
The main outcome measures of the study were the prevalence, severity, and correlates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies in the study cohort. Researchers hypothesized that the pandemic period would be associated with increased mental health symptoms in individuals with chronic traumatic brain injury, like the pattern reported in the general population.
The study’s findings were unanticipated; no significant differences were found in the prevalence, severity, and correlates of mental health conditions in individuals with chronic traumatic brain injury before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Co-author Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of the Northern New Jersey TBI Model System and director of the Centers for Neuroscience, Neuropsychology, and Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation, explained, “…that while the study's findings may seem surprising, they suggest that individuals with chronic TBI may be more resilient than we thought. It's possible that the coping mechanisms they have developed over time helped them better manage the challenges of the pandemic."
Noting similar findings with other neurological populations, including spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, Dr. Chiaravalloti added, “Because many individuals with neurological disabilities were already socially isolated, they may have been less affected by the onset of pandemic restrictions.”
The authors noted the limitations of the TBIMS database and the lack of a control group and recommended that future studies consider additional variables associated with mental health and the social determinants of health.
Funding: National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research grants 90DPTB0002 (Indiana University School of Medicine/Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana; 90DPTB0008 (University of Washington); 90DPTB0003 (Northern New Jersey TBI Model System); 90DPTB0004 (Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute).
About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.