The journey of recovery following a brain injury looks different for everyone. Coming to terms with your injury can be challenging and complex as you learn about what’s changed in yourself and life around you.
People working through these times of recovery and rehabilitation often find that they have become disconnected from friends, family and other important relationships and activities in their life.
The time spent in recovery paired with the physical, cognitive and behavioural changes that may occur as a result of injury all contribute to experiences of social isolation. What’s important however, is understanding the situation and knowing how to address social isolation as you remain focused on the important process of recovery.
What contributes to social isolation?
Cognitive and behaviour changes impact on social interactions
During the early months and years of recovery, people with a brain injury may be adapting to cognitive and behavioural difficulties that impact how they relate to people in social situations.
Communication difficulties are the biggest cognitive issue people face in social interaction, making it harder to express ideas and hold conversations than before their injury. Impairment to memory and concentration make it more difficult to relate to others and make sense of what’s going on in social situations.
Changes to behaviour also impact on social interaction. In particular, difficulties controlling impulsive responses. Heightened emotions paired with greater irritability and a loss of inhibition can quickly lead to problems when trying to connect with people.
While managing these changes can be frustrating, it’s important to stay positive, do what you can and focus on your continued recovery.
Losing friends who have difficulty adjusting to the changes
After sustaining a brain injury, people often find that friends fall away from their life. While some remain, others may seem to vanish as time goes on.
It can be difficult for friends to handle the changes that come from a brain injury. It may be challenging for them to relate and connect socially like before or they may struggle to understand new behaviours and limitations. Some may even experience a sense of grief over the situation which can make it hard for them to continue the friendship.
It is hurtful when friends disappear at a time you need them most but it’s important not to blame yourself for their response.
Difficulties making new friends who understand
Making new friends as you recover can be tough. People often find social interaction stressful because others don’t understand what it’s like to have a brain injury.
As a result, there may be a feeling that you need to hide your injury to appear ‘normal’ or you might simply avoid unnecessary interaction with new people all together. As a result, it can be easy to label others as ‘outsiders’ who will never understand. It’s important to remember though that this isn’t always the case. Thinking of people as ‘outsiders’ can make it even more difficult to develop new friendships and may cause further social isolation.
While making new friends is never without its challenges, it is still possible and there is information available to help you in social situations.
The cycle of depression and social isolation
It is known that traumatic brain injury is associated with high rates of depression. In some cases, it can simply be a condition the person had before the injury, but depression can often be triggered by the physical and social impacts of brain injury.
The challenges of rehabilitation and the return to everyday life can take a significant emotional and mental toll which may lead to feelings of depression. It’s also widely recognised that depression is linked to impaired social experiences, including social isolation. Be on the lookout for the signs of depression as you recover from brain injury.
While recovery can be challenging and upsetting, it’s important to be aware of the cycle of depression and social isolation. If you’re feeling noticeably more sad than normal, or if you’ve been struggling with deeper depression for a long period, speak to someone who can support you through.
Contact our team online or call 1800 673 074 if you or someone you care for is struggling with depression. In an emergency, contact Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.
Tackle social isolation during your recovery
Connect with people who have similar experiences
People with brain injury say that connecting with people who have similar experiences plays an important part in their social life after injury.
The shared experience of injury and recovery makes it easier to connect with and relate to others socially. There is less misunderstanding about the effects of brain injury and the difficulties faced in communicating and interacting socially. People find that this makes social interactions less stressful, allowing them to feel more relaxed and safe.
Depending on your situation, it might be difficult to find or connect with people who share your experience of brain injury, but there are a number of groups and programs operating across the country – many of which now provide ways to connect online.
The Synapse Reconnections Peer Support community offers a range of ways to connect with others who have shared experience of brain injury. The community is led by experienced Synapse team members and our Family Liaison Officers who live with brain injury themselves.
There are also groups and programs across the country that provide opportunities for you to connect with others who are living with brain injury. For more information on what is available and will suit your situation, contact our information team.
‘Relating through Sameness’: a qualitative study of friendship and social isolation in chronic Traumatic Brain Injury.
Social Impairment and Depression after Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic Brain Injury and Depression