March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. There is an often-overlooked connection between brain injury and the onset of mental illness. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is connected with a host of psychiatric and neurobehavioral problems. A history of a TBI that is moderate to severe can cause personality changes, including impulsivity, severe irritability, affective instability, and apathy. A study in 2023 found up to 77% of TBI patients receive a psychiatric diagnosis in the first year after injury. About half of all people with TBI are affected by depression within the first year after injury. The vulnerability of developing a psychiatric illness secondary to a TBI can last decades after the original injury.

Studies have shown that individuals who have experienced TBI, whether through sports-related incidents, accidents, or other causes, are at an increased risk of developing mental health disorders later in life.

Nobody knows this better than local business and community leader Mike Billoni. A near-fatal bicycle accident in 1992 caused a significant injury to his brain (yes, a bicycle helmet saved his life), and his path to recovery included significant mental health issues. Billoni tells his story in a special episode of the Spectrum Health Journey podcast hosted by licensed mental health counselor Malene White and local business executive Bob Stachura.

In this conversation, Billoni says, “About a year after my accident, I had a near nervous breakdown, first diagnosed as bipolar disorder. When the doctor first told me this, when he said it was a mental illness, in my mind I’m saying there’s no way I’m going to tell anyone I had a mental illness.” He’s telling his story now (and is currently writing a book about his experience) to help break the stigmas around mental health.

Also in the podcast, Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist Barbara Brooks shares her experiences in working in this field with co-host Malene White.

Hear it on the Spectrum Health website or WUFO’s podcast platform