Can a Childhood Injury Affect My Mental Health as an Adult?

Can a Childhood Injury Affect My Mental Health as an Adult?

When you were a kid, did you ever wipe out on your bike? Fall off the roof? Or get in a car accident? Every kid takes a few tumbles in life—it’s part of growing up. But could an injury as a child or teen come back to haunt your mental health later in life? The answer is a resounding yes.

Take a look at Sadie, for example, who had been kicked in the head by a horse and lost consciousness when she was 10 years old. Fast forward to age 42, and Sadie often felt depressed, had memory issues, and had failed her sixth alcohol treatment program.  She desperately wanted to stop drinking but couldn’t follow through with any of the program recommendations because she was so impulsive and her memory was poor. Whenever alcohol was around, she just couldn’t say no, and she couldn’t remember the sobriety strategies she was taught. 

Neither she nor her family ever considered that her problems with substance abuse stemmed from that kick in the head from the horse. It never occurred to her that her brain might still carry the lingering effects from that accident. But a brain scan using a technology called SPECT showed severe damage to her prefrontal cortex (focus, forethought, judgment and impulse control) and temporal lobes (learning and memory) caused by that head injury she had long forgotten.  

Sadie’s Surface SPECT Scan

When Sadie saw her brain scan, it jarred her memory about the head injury and its aftermath.  She remembered that her grades at school started to slip and that she became more rebellious at home. People treated her as though she was just a bad person, which made her feel sad and hopeless. She now realized how it all contributed to her problems as an adult.

This is critical to know considering approximately 812,000 young people under the age of 18 sought help in the emergency room for concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in 2014, according to the CDC. Children up to age 4 and teens 15-19 years old—along with seniors who are 65 and over—are the most likely to experience a TBI. Understanding the potential consequences of a TBI can help children and teens prevent the devastating fallout.


Your brain is soft—about the consistency of soft butter, tofu, or custard—and housed in a very hard skull. With multiple sharp, bony ridges inside the brain can be easily damaged. Whiplash, blows to the head, blast injuries, and jarring motions (think shaken baby syndrome) can all cause the brain to slam into those sharp ridges. This can cause damage in a number of ways, including:

  • Bruising
  • Broken blood vessels and bleeding
  • Increased pressure
  • Lack of oxygen
  • Damage to nerve cell connections
  • Ripping open brain cells, spilling out proteins that cause inflammatory reactions

TBIs can also damage more than just the specific area of the brain where you smacked your head. In some cases, injuries can occur in both the front and back of the brain or on both sides. This is the result of a contrecoup injury, a common pattern in which the force of a blow causes the brain to move violently in the opposite direction, slamming into the opposite side of the skull and damaging that side of the brain as well.

In addition, because your pituitary gland (the body’s mast hormone regulator) lies in a vulnerable part of your skull, it is often damaged in head injuries. This can cause significant hormonal imbalances, which are linked to many symptoms of mental illness.


As Sadie’s story shows, TBIs can also lead to mental health problems. Few people know this, however, because most psychiatrists never look at the brain. TBI has been linked to:

Finding relief from your symptoms can be difficult due to several factors. Many people, for instance, have no recollection of experiencing a head injury as a child, whether it was falling out of a tree, slipping in the shower, going through the windshield of a car, or having concussions from playing sports. And they certainly don’t connect the dots to the symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, or PTSD they may be experiencing as an adult.

In addition, the typical treatments for these conditions don’t heal the underlying brain damage. Because of this, therapies can be ineffective, causing you to go from one treatment to another or from doctor to doctor in search of a solution.


For Sadie, seeing her brain scan helped her realize that her substance abuse issues, memory problems, and depression weren’t her fault. They were related to the head injury she had suffered more than three decades earlier. It also helped her understand why all those alcohol treatment programs, which can be so helpful for some people, didn’t work for her. Once she rehabilitated her brain, she was better able to follow the treatment strategies that helped her stay sober, fight off depression, and rescue her memory.

At Amen Clinics about 40% of our patients have experienced head injuries, but many of them have no recollection of suffering a concussion until they see the damage in their brain scan. Seeing the underlying biology of the brain allows us to create a personalized treatment plan that helps heal the brain while addressing other symptoms.

If you think head trauma may be contributing to your symptoms or if traditional treatment isn’t working for you, don’t wait to seek professional help. Schedule a visit today or call 888-288-9834.


  1. Hello!
    I am a 58 year old female veteran.
    I know I had a childhood injury (plus others) that could be affecting me now.
    I am interested in a brain scan.
    My curent job has no insurance.
    What kind of financial opportunities do you provide?

    Thank you!

    Karen Quigg

    Comment by Karen Quigg — October 7, 2019 @ 4:15 AM

  2. Hello Karen, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information about brain SPECT imaging, cost/financing, as well as insurance/reimbursement.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 8, 2019 @ 6:38 AM

  3. Hello, my name is Gustavo, from Brazil.
    I have 38 years old and many problems with circadian rithm, obstructive sleep apnea and add.
    When I was 2 years old, I had a head injury in the ocipital and temporal area and a drowning with respiratory arrest.

    I have already looked for neurologists here in Brazil who do spects based on Dr Amen’s studies, but I was unsuccessful. Can you refer me to a doctor who lives in Brazil and has already taken courses with Dr Amen?

    Comment by Gustavo Carvalho — October 13, 2019 @ 3:54 AM

  4. I’ve has so many, can’t remember them all.
    Fell out of a 2 story window when I was 2 years old.
    My ‘mentally handicapped’ cousin split my head wide open when I was 8 with a rake.
    Then, I played football as a youth, where I got knocked out several times, and ‘apparently’ suffered a concussion.
    Then I went to prison as a young man, was nearly beaten to death several times, suffering many facial and head injuries (one required 20 some stitches in my head).
    Those are just the major ones, been a lot of others, I’d have to think to recall them all (stuff like a fork-lift hitting my head one time while working, I suffered a head injury and swelling, but refused medical treatment).
    I suffer a lot nowadays, one way is I stopped taking care of myself, when they ended my healthcare, can’t afford it anymore (have jagged teeth in my mouth, where I just let them break off, I have had cancer, but I stopped getting checkups, my body is busted, but I just live with it).
    Guess I’m not saying this because I expect any help, I like Dr. Amen, I really believe in his work, but it’s out of reach for me.
    Just saying this because it helps to talk about it, and I think of killing myself sometimes, I stay pretty depressed.
    But more than all that, I thank you for what you do, that other people may get the ‘right’ help (especially children).

    Comment by William Miller — October 18, 2019 @ 2:31 AM

  5. As a child I had a bike injury that flew me in the air.Being the youngest of 4 kids I always had to work hard for my grades.Then I went to college struggling and didn’t finish with bad choices.Had couple car accidents .Depression autoimmune issues weight the list goes on.Could all this have been from my accident?

    Comment by 8ev A Peltz — October 18, 2019 @ 2:39 AM

  6. Hello, I love the work you do. I know my brain was injured and I have tried so many doctors and I am simply dismissed, I can see it in their eyes they don’t believe me. I’m in the uk, my insurance won’t cover me over there or will it?

    I can trace back to the incident my troubles too!

    Thank you Jordan

    Comment by Pilkington Jordan — October 18, 2019 @ 2:51 AM

  7. Reading your latest email on childhood tbi’s Reminds me of falling down concrete stairs at 5 and cracking the back of my head open, years, like 50 later, still a dime size scar. I suffered PCOS, ADHD and so much addiction, even now nicotine addiction plagued me, yet 22 years ago I did get off alcohol and drugs, I still have such depression and anxiety about so much. Psyche meds don’t help and I suffer every day but have heard the pricing and competency are hard to gain unless Dr Amen is the doc there. Plus $10,00 just for the scan??? Part of a brain injury comes the inability to work especially if autoimmunity plagues a life such as I’ve suffered since age 8 so I’ve 0 income at 63

    Comment by Glenda Isbell — October 18, 2019 @ 6:07 AM

  8. What is the treatment you recommend for this kind of situation? I suspect it might apply to my daughter after her childhood injuries, starting with a traumatic birth and first week in NICU.

    Comment by jane — October 18, 2019 @ 6:57 AM

  9. Hi, William! I wanted you to know that someone read your comment—even though probably many people have or will. I’m a reader here, as well. I just wanted to acknowledge your courage in describing your health and your challenges around being here. I had some very depressed thoughts myself earlier and called a friend. We talked it through and I’m feeling better. Please think about calling a friend or family member to talk about this, or perhaps call a mental health support line in your area. You can usually find one in your local listings online. Your presence here is important, there are good things to come, and your life matters. Wishing you a peaceful night and a good day tomorrow.

    Comment by Laurie — October 18, 2019 @ 5:31 PM

  10. When I was +/-5 years old I dove off the kitchen table and hit my forehead on the counter, and then the back of my head on the kitchen floor. Dr Amen himself diagnosed me with ADD, and treated me as a child +25 years ago. He also performed a scan of my brain free of charge when my Mother couldn’t afford it. Dr. Amen was focused on childhood ADD at that time, and he was very interested in looking at my brain scan images. Today I experience 10 out of those 14, and my disability income is preventing the other 4.

    Comment by Benjamin Hughes — October 19, 2019 @ 5:33 AM

  11. i hear the struggle mate and feel it too. tis hard to live as a human, especially with no access to people who have any clue about how to help others
    the only comfort i can give is that you are not on your own sir, there are many of us i am sure
    may you find comfort

    Comment by penny waters — October 19, 2019 @ 11:04 AM

  12. Hi, my daughter had a severe head injury as a infant caused by a fall. As a teenager she became rebellious and promiscuous. As an adult she has been unable to keep a job. She is now on PWD in Canada (person with disability) and is unemployed. She has had two divorces and is now single. She is 47 years old. She lives on the border of BC and Washington State. Where is the closest Amen clinic and do you provide financial assistance?

    Comment by Norman — October 19, 2019 @ 1:13 PM

  13. I’m curious how a person who “couldn’t follow through with any of the program recommendations because she was so impulsive and her memory was poor.” Can follow through with rehabilitating her brain? Doesn’t the follow through with brain rehabilitation also take following through with recommendations etc..?
    The treatment in order to get better is the most important part right?

    Comment by Kj — October 19, 2019 @ 9:01 PM

  14. My husband and I both are teachers with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina health insurance. My husband has suffered for a long time from ADD symptoms, memory issues, and sometimes information processing problems. I am morbidly obese and suffer from depression and anxiety. I have watched Tana Amen’s cooking videos and listened to Dr. Amen talking about SPECT scans and how they can pinpoint damage, even past damage, in the brain. We would both love to get scanned and have Dr. Amen help rehabilitate our brains. Our jobs are so stressful but we know there’s more that can be done to make life better. Would BCBSNC be the kind of insurance that would help with scans? If not, what type, if any, of financial help is available? If y’all could help us, we’re teachers, and lots of other people could definitely benefit from what we would learn. I don’t know if you’re considering a section of the country that can’t afford the help but desperately needs it, Martin County in North Carolina is the place!

    Comment by Robin Bennett — October 20, 2019 @ 5:22 AM

  15. At age 4 or 5, I was jumping on a bed trampoline-like in a screened porch we had between the house and the carport. When I slipped and came down, I hit the edge of the cement block knee wall with my forehead. Bloody mess, sewed me up at the doctor’s office and on my way. I’m not entirely broken like so many people, but I have to work hard at staying on the rails, particularly with impulses. I probably would be a different person today without that accident. However, the article leaped from. “See, a piece of your brain is missing (as indicated from the pictures)” to “Once she rehabilitated her brain, she was better…” Ok, how do you rehabilitate a damaged brain? Write an article on that.

    Comment by Clark — October 21, 2019 @ 5:03 AM

  16. can a spect scan pick up normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)? My mother has had several head injuries as a child and young woman and fell a few years ago and hit the couch with her neck turned at a 90 degree angle and I thought she would be paralyzed or dying from this due to two spinal fusions in her neck and she started getting paranoid, angry, having hallucinations, and is up almost all night seeing blue lights and thinking someone is putting bugs in her bed and stealing her clothes. she sees and hears people and gets upset when myself and others don’t hear this or see anything. she is 88 and legally blind but has never acted like this before.

    Comment by wendell — October 21, 2019 @ 3:03 PM

  17. Hello Clark, thank you for reaching out. We use many different alternative and holistic treatment methods at Amen Clinics –

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 22, 2019 @ 7:02 AM

  18. Hello Robin, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We are an out-of-network provider, but we do assist patients with reimbursement. We also offer financing options. We’d be happy to reach out to you directly to discuss further. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 22, 2019 @ 7:05 AM

  19. Hello Norman, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We have 8 clinic locations currently ( and we do offer financing options. We’d be happy to reach out to you directly to go over this information and see if there is a clinic location that’s right for you/your daughter. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 22, 2019 @ 7:07 AM

  20. Hello Jane, thank you for reaching out. We use many different alternative and holistic treatment methods at Amen Clinics – We’d be happy to contact you directly to discuss your daughter’s condition further. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 22, 2019 @ 7:10 AM

  21. I am 64 collecting SSD for 40 years. I have had many TBI’s the worst was a car hitting my bicycle at 13 and the back of my head breaking the windshield. I was unconscious and amnesiac for 48 hours. I was knocked out in martial arts at 18 again the back of my head. And my father and I fought in the back yard in 1985 and he broke a hibachi grill on my head and I was knocked unconscious again, this time on the front on my skull. I have had many other head injuries that drew blood. After all this time that has gone by is there still hope for improvement in my life? I sometimes want to give up hope. I have been classified alternately as Bi Polar and CPTSD. My father was an alcoholic WW2 veteran. I am tired of the mental health system merry-go-round. Thank you.

    Comment by Mike Siletti — October 22, 2019 @ 1:56 PM

  22. When I first started following Dr Amen more than 15 years ago I was so incredibly relieved that there was finally an explanation for my adolescent difficulties. My head was crushed and pinned between the roof and dashboard of a 58 GMC pickup by a concrete light post we smashed into. I was 13 years old. Never finished highschool & extensive prison time followed.
    YES!, there is so much you can do without a scan or expensive testing. Go to Dr Amens website and start there. His and Tana’s BRAIN WARRIORS WAY HELP ME EVERY DAY. Go have a look.

    Comment by Joe — November 20, 2019 @ 12:57 PM

  23. I am really impressed with all the things I have learned tonight.
    I am currently suffering from depression due to the loss of my dear husband who died suddenly from an artery rupture.
    I have been grieving for a year and a half. I have heard from some people that it is not normal. However, reading some of the commentaries I felt I am not alone. It helped me to realize how important is to open our hearts and seek professional help to find a solution to our problems.

    Comment by Angelina S. Toledo — November 21, 2019 @ 12:57 AM

  24. I fall fm a bed as a child that got certain height as below contain things, its not double bed

    But i am fm Singpore, how to scan my brain?

    Comment by Pam — November 22, 2019 @ 6:12 AM

  25. My head injuries consist of several life events. At around the age of 4 I was pushed off the top of a play structure at the park by a child I did not know. I do not remember the event. I knew I had a scar where the staples were so I knew the event really happened. I cannot remember much as a child and even as teenager. I do however remember being suicidal at age 12. I tried to cut my wrists in the bathroom but the pain of the knife while trying to cut was too much for me so I stopped. I also would suck my finger and forced myself to stop around then. I also would do ocd like rituals like having the uncontrollable insistence on touching the door in a particular spot 4 times in order to feel comfortable to open it and walk through it. I would do this and other ritual type things. As a little girl I had a blanket I would carry around and would move it back and forth between my fingers. I loved that blankie. I am saying all of this to say that I know there was a link upon reflection of my past behavior. It is hard for me to complete tasks for self care. I can do things for my children but when it comes to me it is hard. I try but can not follow through. At 16 years old I was beaten and raped by a stranger that pulled me off of a bus early in the morning. He took me to a park, he punched me and I fell to the ground and distinctly remember looking at myself on the ground. It was weird and I will never forget looking down at myself on the ground squirming in pain. After the bruises went away I would walk around my city for hours, I would not want to go home so I would sleep at the bus stop or just walk around wanting to die. I engaged in destructive sexual behavior and didn’t know how to stop men from taking advantage of my body. Getting pregnant at 17 and having a child stopped my suicidal thoughts but I struggle with completing things and severe procrastination. In 2017 I was physically assaulted at work and suffered a mild concussion. Before this incident I only got a headache 1-2 times per year. Now my head hurts 1-2 times a month. I also notice that my memory is fuzzy and I cannot remember the names of coworkers I haven’t seen in a while. People that I know and had many conversations with. I want to get a brain scan. I think knowing what’s going on up there will help me to move forward and obtain goals I know I could reach with out my self sabotaging behaviors. Ok. I’m done.

    Comment by KAM TAYLOR — January 31, 2020 @ 7:50 AM

  26. I’ve hit my head several times in my lifetime. Once when was in junior high school, these kids were messing around with this heavy fiberglass object. They were playing baseball with it. It flew out of this kids hands and hit me in the head. I’ve been on psych meds since I was 13. Later on in life, I’ve passed out several times, I’m anemic. I’ve bashed my head into the pavement twice. This happened in 2010. I have severe anger fits, I’m good at keeping them to myself, but I’ve been homeless, and I’ve had a severe asthma since 2 years old. This makes me sad because I want to live a normal life and be around people, but I’ve become very antisocial. The pandemic has made my problems much worse. I am sober though. I came on here to comment because it gets my in touch with myself. thank you for letting me vent, Andrew

    Comment by Andrew Siegel — February 13, 2022 @ 12:33 AM

  27. I agree with this that childhood injury can affect the mental health of a person in adult. I also suffer from the in the child I was a slip from stair which cause a dent in my head and now it is disgusting for me and this leads me towards the depression which affects my mental health badly.

    Comment by Ani Parker — February 17, 2022 @ 10:21 PM

  28. When I was a child my grandfather was really mean, he would take me and my brother’s heads and bang them together, every time he caught my brother and I arguing with one another. (Which was quite a bit you know how brother and sisters are) My question is can that cause me to have migraines and could it be braindamage? I know it’s PTSD and I’ve been in therapy since I was 8 years old. But I’ve been having headaches and, migraines all my life, and I’m trying to figure out how and why?

    Comment by Beth — February 26, 2022 @ 1:13 PM

  29. When my daughter was a toddler, she would head butt hard surfaces when she would get angry! She finally grew out of it but she is an adult in her 20's and suffers with severe anxiety, depression, and anger issues. Could she have caused a brain injury as a child that led to this?

    Comment by Carla — October 26, 2022 @ 4:43 AM

  30. When I was 8yrs old I was walking near playground at school boy picked on me they were playing Soccer and delipretly Kicked Ball in side of my face and laughed,I was screaming and crying in pain was sent to sick bay with Mild Concussion and Jaw issue which wasn't immediately treated because my father never did anything about situation, I have banged head few times, I now suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apneoa,Jaw problems, Migraines and Headaches and just found out last year that one of my eye is slightly damaged meaning I'm light sensitivity, wonder if it's from injury I had as a Child, I even struggle to study and can't remember recent memories,

    Comment by Rachael — September 20, 2023 @ 2:53 AM

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