Community and Relationships with Traumatic Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog by Jessica Felix Jager, MSW

July 22, 2011

Embracing Community and Relationships after a Traumatic Brain Injury

I attended an educational conference once where the speaker spoke on individuals with disabilities and how difficult it can be for them to integrate into society and build community. He then went on to give an example on how acquired disabilities can make the task of building community even more difficult due to the individual remembering how they once interacted in community and how they were accepted in society prior to their acquired disability. I couldn’t help but think to myself, how my current community would change if suddenly I found myself disabled in some form. The reality to this realization was a bit disturbing. It was then that I believe I received but a small glimpse of how one that has survived a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) must feel when dealing with the reality of re-entering community and society. For many the community has not changed, but the survivor has and so the process becomes uncharted territory in many ways.

It is true that remembering how you once were, while trying to embrace who you are as a result of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can be a difficult process, however, it can produce powerful and beautiful results in the sense that new opportunities, experiences and ways to help others may be birthed from the hardship that was endured. Before one can experience the positive results of overcoming and stepping out, isolation must be conquered so that community can once again be embraced. Many individuals that have experienced a TBI initially struggle with isolation and getting back into the community.  For some it is an ongoing struggle. Although there are many reasons one with a TBI may find themselves more isolated post the TBI than prior, the purpose of this article is not to identify the reasons one may find themselves isolated, but rather to address why isolation is detrimental to all despite its genesis.

In the article, Social Isolation: A Modern Plague, Stephen Ilardi identifies that 25% of Americans have reported having no meaningful social support at all and that over half of all Americans report having no close confidants or friends outside of their immediate family (Ilardi, 2009). Ilardi’s article highlights this social deficit across humanity, and how this is a problem for all individuals with or without a disability. The deficit in undeniable and the problem of social isolation only increases with those that suffer from a disability. Ilardi identifies increased vulnerability to mental illness as a result of social isolation (2009). Social isolation also is a major risk factor for the onset of major depression and increases vulnerability to various forms of addiction (Ilardi, 2009).

James House points out in his article, Social Isolation Kills, But How and Why, that social isolation has been shown repeatedly to prospectively predict mortality and serious morbidity both in general population samples and in individuals with established morbidity, especially coronary heart disease (2009). The magnitude of risk associated with social isolation is comparable with that of cigarette smoking and other major biomedical and psychosocial risk factors (House, 2009). 

Indeed the need for community is becoming more prevalent. To counter social isolation, one must enter into community with others. Jean Vanier in her book Community and Growth emphasizes that each of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help. Without dependence upon one another, we cannot grow and develop the capacity of joy (2001). Thomas Reynolds author of Vulnerable Communion passionately states, wholeness is not the property of the individual, a quality of self-sufficiency. It is a relational term; we are not complete persons without each other. What is “mine” is really “ours.” My own joy, my own good, is connected with that of others. The common good of a community is thus not an external constraint imposed on me, but a horizon that empowers the flourishing of relationships in which I can flourish (2008). We need each other. We need community. We are social beings made to interact with one another and work together as one.

The Social Work Dictionary better defines community, as a group of individuals or families that share certain values, services, institutions, interests, or geographic proximity (Barker, 2003). Everyone has values, interests, or is part of an institution of some sort such as a church, school, support group, club and so on. Therefore, everyone has the capability of being further incorporated into a community setting if they so chose to be. Granted some are limited in their resources, but these limits can become another means of community if one allows the limitation to not be an obstacle. For example, if one cannot drive due to the Traumatic Brain Injury they endured which caused their vision to be compromised, and say they wanted to attend a weekly bible study and church service, then he or she can get connected with members that are willing to drive them each week, thus creating a new opportunity for relationship building. A lack of resources or limitations essentially can produce opportunities to problem solve and creatively build new community. Another good example of overcoming the odds is focusing on developing your current interests. If prior to surviving a TBI the individual may have enjoyed horse back riding and working out on the farm, but since the TBI now enjoys reading and won’t go near a horse, then the individual can join a book club and build community on the new found passion. 

Each of us make up the community around us to some extent, therefore each of us play a role in including others and drawing them in. It is evident that social isolation is detrimental and damaging to ones physical, mental and emotional health. If we truly want optimal recovery and an overall better quality of life for our loved one with a Traumatic Brain Injury then we must be advocates of inclusion and do all we can to encourage community and social interactions. The Brain Injury Association of American, in their published guide, The Essential Brain Injury Guide, defines inclusion as the incorporation and welcome of the individual into the community regardless of a disability (2007). By bringing individuals into community with others it allows the Community to play a role in the recovery and normalizing process. We cannot change behavior through a mere technique or a law, change occurs as a result of relationship.

References

References

Barker, R.L. (2003). The Social Work Dictionary (5th ed). Baltimore, MD: Port City

 Press.

 Brain Injury Association of America (2007). The Essential Brain Injury Guide (4th ed).

 Ypsilanti, MI: Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers, Inc.

 House, J.S. (2001) Social isolation kills, but how and why? Psychomatic Medicine, 63,

 273-274. Retrieved June 28, 2011, form

 http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/63/2/273.short 

 Ilardi, S. (2009). Social Isolation: A modern plague. Retrieved June 28, 2011 from

 http://www.psychologytoday.com/print/30862

 Reynolds, T.E. (2008). Vulnerable communion: A theology of disability and hospitality.

 Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

 Vanier, J. (2001). Community and growth. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

2 responses to “Community and Relationships with Traumatic Brain Injury”

  1. click here says:

    Great work, quite a few extremely good points! I appreciate you writing this article and the rest of your web-site is superb!

  2. Ginger says:

    This is so important for both the survivor and their spouse. With depression as a major part of brain injury, it is often hard for the survivor to make those community connections. And ongoing health issues make it difficult as well. Thank you for encouraging others to come to us, rather than having to do all the work to connect. The books on Social Isolation are a welcome find. Thank you.

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