Phenotyping Depression After Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Evaluating the Impact of Multiple Injury, Gender, and Injury Context

J Neurotrauma. 2024 Apr;41(7-8):924-933. doi: 10.1089/neu.2023.0381. Epub 2024 Jan 10.


The chronic mental health consequences of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) are a leading cause of disability. This is surprising given the expectation of significant recovery after mild TBI, which suggests that other injury-related factors may contribute to long-term adverse outcomes. The objective of this study was to determine how number of prior injuries, gender, and environment/context of injury may contribute to depressive symptoms after mild TBI among deployed United States service members and veterans (SMVs). Data from the Long-term Impact of Military-Relevant Brain Injury Consortium Prospective Longitudinal Study was used to assess TBI injury characteristics and depression scores previously measured on the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) among a sample of 1456 deployed SMVs. Clinical diagnosis of mild TBI was defined via a multi-step process centered on a structured face-to-face interview. Logistical and linear regressions stratified by gender and environment of injury were used to model depressive symptoms controlling for sociodemographic and combat deployment covariates. Relative to controls with no history of mild TBI (n = 280), the odds ratios (OR) for moderate/severe depression (PHQ-9 ≥ 10) were higher for SMVs with one mild TBI (n = 358) OR: 1.62 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.09-2.40, p = 0.016) and two or more mild TBIs (n = 818) OR: 1.84 (95% CI 1.31-2.59, p < 0.001). Risk differences across groups were assessed in stratified linear models, which found that depression symptoms were elevated in those with a history of multiple mild TBIs compared with those who had a single mild TBI (p < 0.001). Combat deployment-related injuries were also associated with higher depression scores than injuries occurring in non-combat or civilian settings (p < 0.001). Increased rates of depression after mild TBI persisted in the absence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Both men and women SMVs separately exhibited significantly increased depressive symptom scores if they had had combat-related mild TBI. These results suggest that contextual information, gender, and prior injury history may influence long-term mental health outcomes among SMVs with mild TBI exposure.

Keywords: deployment; depression; mild TBI; traumatic brain injury; veteran health.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Concussion* / complications
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / complications
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Military Personnel* / psychology
  • Multiple Trauma*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / etiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans* / psychology