An Open Letter to Hollywood:
Please start taking brain injuries seriously.
Time and time again television shows and movies portray people receiving blows to the head, being injured in car accidents, or incurring severe head trauma in overly-dramatic action scenes. In all of these, the character affected turns out “fine,” with no repercussions from their traumatic brain injury (TBI).
We all know that Hollywood doesn’t portray real life the majority of the time. As a TBI survivor of near seven years with post-concussive syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, pituitary damage, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and dysautonomia (each of these comes with a long list of symptoms that I deal with every day), who had to give up my 14 year career in healthcare as well as my successful business of 12 years because of my mild traumatic brain injury, let me tell you that this is the real experience of life with a TBI.
There are approximately three million new diagnosed TBIs in the United States every year, and countless others that go un- or misdiagnosed due to the inability of people to afford or access quality medical care, and because Hollywood (and even many in the medical community) continues to portray traumatic brain injuries as non-serious injuries that one should simply “walk off.” Before COVID-19, the World Health Organization estimated that TBIs would be the third leading cause of death and disability in the world in 2020.
It is true that a good proportion of people who incur a TBI, including concussion (which is simply another word for TBI), do back to “normal” after a period of time, depending of the severity of the injury. Then there are the rest of us who don’t go back to “normal,” and have to seek treatment and ways of adapting to a potentially very different life for years to the rest of one’s life. Traumatic brain injuries affect more than just the individual. They affect families, friends, businesses…and cost more than the thousands upon thousands of dollars every year individuals and families wrack up in medical expenses because of these life-altering injuries. They cost dreams, abilities, careers, and relationships.
Want to get the real picture of what it’s like to live with a TBI? Ask any TBI survivor who still struggles, or read my book, Head of Hope: A Resource & Empowerment Guide for Living & Thriving with a Traumatic Brain Injury, or any book about TBI written by a survivor. Yes, one movie has been made about this topic, Concussion, but one film doesn’t make up for the millions of TV shows and movies that get it wrong. Let me also make it clear that it’s not just our military service members or athletes who incur these injuries. It’s your 78 year-old parent who falls in the shower and hits their head on the edge of the bathtub. It’s your child who slips on the ice on the walkway on a winter day when going out to play. It’s your partner or spouse who gets hit by an un-attentive driver on the way home from work one day. It’s your neighbor who gets hit in the head by a piece of lumber when working on a construction site, even while wearing a safety helmet.
Movies and TV shows wouldn’t be as thrilling if the brain injured character had to deal with all of the repercussions of their injuries, instead of just picking up right after they left off by continuing to chase the villain the next day. But they’re the hero, so of course they just walk it off and are as good as new almost instantly. Ratings and profit mean more to you than reality.
Before you even think of portraying a traumatic brain injury in this way again, take a moment to stop and think about the impact your portrayal has on your viewers. Traumatic brain injuries, even those considered “mild (see my explanation of what a mild TBI actually means in my book),” can have severe consequences. They are not to be taken lightly, or walked off. When people continue to see TBIs portrayed the way they are in Hollywood, they also fail to take them seriously.
Whenever I watch TV or movies now, I see countless injuries that in real life would result in a TBI, and it honestly makes me mad, no, furious. Millions of lives have been and will be turned upside down because of these injuries. We TBI survivors do not laugh when we see people hit in the head, even in comedic sketches. We cringe every time we see this on screen because we know what it feels like in our own bodies, and how it still affects every aspect of our lives. Think of us the next time someone suggests a scene where someone incurs head trauma, in even comedy. Picture the millions of us who live with these injuries. How would it make us feel?
Please start taking traumatic brain injuries seriously.
I do, and so do the millions who stand behind me in this request.
TBI Survivor & Advocate, Author