Many of us are not aware of brain injuries and their consequences. Screenshot, Campbell River Head Injury Support Society video

COLUMN: Brain injuries can be invisible to many of us

At least 165,000 Canadians are affected each year

Campbell River recently gathered to break ground on a new housing project, Linda’s Place, that will include nine units that will be subsidized for people with brain injuries.

The head of the Head Injury Support Society, Shelley Howard, pointed out people with brain injuries often struggle with homelessness, among other challenges. The immediate benefit of the project – putting a roof over people’s heads – is obvious, but it also helps draw attention to the issue of brain injuries.

I admit until the last decade or so I was ignorant, especially the fact that in the case of many who’ve suffered brain injuries, the effects are not immediately obvious. This changed after I covered a horrible story in which a man drove into an oncoming vehicle, killing himself and the driver of the other vehicle. The police determined it was a murder-suicide.

There is, doubtless, a lot of justifiable anger in these cases, especially over the death of the innocent victim. However, the story became more complicated when I started to learn about the man that had caused the crash. After a pretty normal life, he suffered a brain injury on the job, and in the aftermath, he lost his work, his marriage, his world as he knew it.

Shortly after, I spoke to a brain injury advocate that told me how many people in the prison system suffer from brain injuries, which often went undiagnosed for years.

The website Brainstreams.ca provides information about brain injuries. The extent of the problem is larger than you might expect, with an estimated 160,000-165,000 cases in Canada each year, and of these, 6,500 people become permanently disabled.

“Most people are not aware of brain injuries and the consequences they can bring,” one video says.

These injuries sometimes result internally from stroke or tumours but also from external trauma, such as falls, car accidents and sports injuries. I thank my lucky stars I wasn’t in fights when I was a kid or beaten up by an abusive parent.

In the years since covering the crash, I’ve met people, including friends, with a brain injury. Again, in some cases, these are people you could meet and have no clue something had gone wrong and they have been left to deal with the after-effects, which can include not only cognitive and memory impairment but difficulties with reasoning and governing emotions. Sometimes, it’s trying to be on the other side of this, but it’s important to be patient and remind yourself the other person is dealing with challenges you can’t imagine.

Sadly, many people these days seem to be more mean-spirited, or at least it seems so if you spend any time on social media. Some might disagree with spending on projects to help vulnerable people, smugly dismissing it as “social engineering,” although society itself is really a big social engineering experiment.

You might see yourself as the most self-made person around, not needing any help, but remember you could be one slip on the ice away from having your world literally and figuratively taken right out from under your feet. My advice? Maybe check your sense of superiority, have a little compassion and watch your step.

For more information, contact the Campbell River Head Injury Support Society at 250-287-4323 or info@crhead.ca.

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