As a teenager, Isaac (not his real name) was an A student and a high level hockey player. Isaac was smaller than most players, but he was fast and was an effective goal scorer. This made him a threat to the other teams who would actively target Isaac, repeatedly checking him into the boards. Because Isaac was shorter than the other players, instead of his shoulder hitting the boards, it was his head; over and over again. Routinely he reported seeing stars, feeling dizzy, and he couldn’t remember what happened, but he just kept on playing.
Eventually, he had chronic headaches, he felt ‘foggy’ and couldn’t concentrate in school, he suffered from depression, and he couldn’t sleep. Today, Isaac’s coaches, parents, and teachers would know he had repeated concussions. Now we know that a concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and while most people fully recover from their first concussion, recent evidence shows that the effects of multiple concussions are cumulative and can contribute to cognitive, mental, and behavioural changes. But back then, everyone thought he just had a bad attitude. He started smoking marijuana and drinking to feel better. His grades slipped, he got dropped from the hockey team and his parents eventually threw him out of the house.
Now in his mid-thirties, Isaac struggles with substance use, he’s currently homeless, and he’s been involved with the criminal justice system on several occasions. He has trouble holding down a job and he’s been on and off the streets ever since he left his parents’ home.
Sadly, Isaac’s story is not unique. Did you know that approximately 80% of people who have been charged in the criminal justice system have a history of TBI? Did you know that most of these people had their first brain injury as a teenager, long before their first interaction with police and the legal system? Did you know that TBI is also common among women survivors of intimate partner violence, their children, and those who have been assaulted, and or abused? Did you know that more than 50% of Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver’s homeless population has a history of TBI before they became homeless? Did you know that the majority of these people go on to suffer from mental health conditions and substance use?
Outcomes could be helped by specialized rehabilitation support including case management, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, counselling, physiotherapy, and other services, as well as education about concussions/brain injuries, how to self-manage and how to access resources. Unfortunately, there is no publicly funded specialized care for these individuals. In Ontario, people only get medical care for a concussion or TBI immediately after an injury, and that’s only if they go to the hospital or their doctor and get a diagnosis.
The Compassionate Justice Fund is pleased to partner with the Ontario Brain Injury Association, a non-profit award-winning association with over 30 years of service to the brain injury community, to help mitigate this important problem in Ontario communities.