By: Hollis Lyman
Edited by: Christina M. Swords (Marvin)
A Surprise Diagnosis for an Inmate
Marchell Taylor Sr. had been out of prison for 4 years in January 2016, but he longed to return. He felt that “no one valued him anymore, he wasn’t important, all his relationships were damaged, [and] he was a financially broke business founder.” He needed an escape, and found himself back in prison after an aggravated robbery with a second-degree kidnapping charge. Mr. Taylor had gotten his wish, and his need for escaping life escalated into a suicide attempt that left his unconscious for five days.
Mr. Taylor was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and several psychological disorders and dysfunctions. Simplistically, he was a 47 year old man with a brain functioning more like a 10 year old child’s.
Many people associate brian injuries with professional athletes and car accidents. However, TBI is even more prevalent in vulnerable populations and these incidents rarely get the same attention in the media. Communicating the relevance and importance of TBI should be a major goal for neuroscientists and psychologists, as there is a great need for more research into TBI off of sports fields. Continue reading for more information and links to resources for scientists and the public.
Traumatic Brain Injury: The Silent Epidemic
Mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, are usually caused by a blow to the head that causes the brain to bounce, twist, or hit the inside of the skull. Changes to the brain cell structure and chemistry manifest behaviorally as symptoms like memory loss, forgetfulness, nausea, mood changes, headaches, balance problems, confusion, anger, and more. TBIs are often difficult to diagnose and symptoms may last years until they become disabling. Concussions are unfortunately common, 8.5% of the general population reports having experienced at least one TBI; 50% of these individuals will experience a decline in daily functioning and their life expectancy may be shortened by up to 8 years.
Certain populations are at a higher risk for injury. Media coverage and prominent athletes have highlighted the risks of football, boxing, and similar impact sports.
Though sports figures certainly have something to worry about, Mr. Taylor inadvertently discovered that there are vulnerable populations with TBI rates almost double that of athletes. Persons involved with the criminal justice system suffer from TBI incidence rates as high as 88%. Through trauma classes, Mr. Taylor learned skills that he should have developed as an adolescent. Mr. Taylor’s hard work and advocate team for his mental health recovery did not go unnoticed. He eventually partnered with Deputy Jackson, his friend Shively, and the Association of Young Business Owners to create “The Beth McCann Rebuild Your Mind Challenge” campaign based on research and treatment of mental health. Over 40 inmates began reaching out to challenge parole board members, judges, district attorneys, public defenders, corrections staff, and others to discuss mental health experiences on camera.
Deputy Jackson challenged the Mayor of Denver and became the first Deputy to discussing his own mental health in the Challenge. The video at the beginning of this post shows the product of this community dedication in science communication.
Other vulnerable populations include survivors of domestic violence. Approximately 88% report having a TBI with only 21% seeking medical help. Houseless persons too are at high risk with between 8-53% reporting history of TBI. Indigenous persons, LGBTQ populations and other minorities too are at high risk, though less evidence is available for these communities. The community prevalence of TBIs extends beyond the sports fields. In fact, the most common causes of TBIs are falls, followed by being struck against and traffic accidents.
Building a Community of Information and Action
Mr. Taylor claims that his TBI diagnosis and mental health program changed his life. He was sentenced to Mental Health Probation rather than incarceration. He has challenged influencers and celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Chauncey Billups, and Ellen DeGeneres to destigmatize mental health with their own experiences. Mr. Taylor also went on to challenge Dr. Kim Gorgens, the doctor who helped Mr. Taylor with his original diagnosis.
While Mr. Taylor’s story is heartening, it is not the norm. Sadly many people with TBI do not receive treatment. In fact, treatment recommendations per the CDC are lackluster at best.
TBI is complicated and recovery requires more research. There are dedicated scientists around the world working on this puzzle. There are also many non-scientific treatments publicly available that take advantage of this lack of medical solution. The following resources are backed with medical, psychological, and biological evidence.
If you are interested in Brain Injury Recovery or Research, reach out to one of these organizations. Your help is needed!
Hollis Lyman earned her Master’s in Sport and Performance Psychology from the University of Denver. She now works at DU as the Colorado Opioid/Substance Use Disorder Training Program Coordinator. She volunteers in a Traumatic Brain Injury Lab, with the Concussion Research Collaborative, with Knobel Institute of Healthy Aging, and with the Neurodegenerative Disease Lab at DU. She enjoys running mountain trails, her community garden, and her furry family members.
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