At 5 years old our daughter had a head injury with a depressed skull fracture on her left frontotemporal area. She is now 20 years old. Immediately after her recovery she was very angry and anxious. Prior she was thrilled and excited to start kindergarten at her brother’s school where she knew all the teachers and felt comfortable. On the first day of K it took three teachers to pry her off of me and six months before she would stay without a meltdown. We remember saying to ourselves we just want our child back from prior injury. No other developmental effects from the injury however and we are fortunate. Her entire life she had angry outbursts and anxious behavior. We tried to put her in therapy and she vehemently refused and fought against it. We were not insistent enough. She grew to be a very bright, intelligent and socially active person. None of her friends or their parents saw her anxious angry side – it was reserved for immediate family. As a senior in high school she became anorexic and she has been struggling with it for three years. She denies having it at times and refuses to go to therapy or ever be on a medication. Is it possible that her behaviors are due to her head injury from when she was five? She is in college and a perfectionist making straight A’s. We worry she will never have the ability to develop truly open trusting relationships. She is very empathetic to others but never seems to open up about herself to them or to herself. How can we help her? (age 51, from US)
I am not aware of any known connection between head injuries and the later development of eating disorders, however, I must say that I would not consider myself an expert in these areas either. There can be many effects from head injuries (TBI) and these vary of course depending on where and how extensively the brain is injured. One common one is the emotional lability that you mention. On the plus side, your daughter was young when it happened and the brain has an amazing ability to heal, so I would hope that there would be few lasting effects at this point. However, this is obviously influenced by the type of treatments received after the injury.
Clinically I have seen a correlation with perfectionistic tendencies and eating disorders, so this may be the real culprit, although it’s not that simple. Eating disorders can relate to many factors but it concerns me that she is not willing to get help. You may really need to push hard for this and being in college she most likely has access to student counseling services right on campus which would make it convenient for her. If she resists, you might consider seeing someone yourself to help you cope with your concerns, but also to help know where to draw the lines between parenting her still and letting her find her own way. Good luck to you both.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts