Effectiveness and harms of mental health treatments in service members and veterans with deployment-related mild traumatic brain injury

Princess E. Ackland, Nancy Greer, Nina A. Sayer, Michele R. Spoont, Brent C. Taylor, Roderick MacDonald, Lauren McKenzie, Christina Rosebush, Timothy J. Wilt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Co-morbidity of psychiatric conditions with traumatic brain injury (TBI) is common among service members and Veterans from recent deployments. Practice guidelines for mild TBI (mTBI) recommend management of co-occurring psychiatric conditions with existing treatments, but it is unclear whether the effectiveness of treatments for psychiatric conditions is impacted by mTBI. We conducted a systematic literature review to examine the effectiveness and harms of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder, depressive disorders, substance use disorders, suicidal ideation or attempts, and anxiety disorders in the presence of co-morbid deployment-related mTBI. Methods: We searched bibliographic databases for peer-reviewed, English language studies published from 2000 to October 2017. Two reviewers independently completed abstract triage and full text review. Results: We identified 7 studies (5 pre-post and 2 secondary analysis). Six assessed psychotherapy and one reported on hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO 2 ). Studies comparing outcomes by TBI history found that a history of TBI does not affect treatment outcomes. Harms were reported only for HBO 2 and were mild. No study examined the effectiveness of treatments for substance use disorders or suicidal ideation, or the effectiveness of pharmacological interventions for the psychiatric conditions of interest in service members and Veterans with mTBI. Limitations: Studies lacked usual care or wait-list control groups and no randomized trials were found, making the strength of evidence insufficient. Conclusions: Evidence is insufficient to fully assess the impact of TBI on the effectiveness of treatments for psychiatric conditions. Higher quality evidence with definitive guidance for providers treating this population is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-501
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is part of a larger report based on research conducted by the Evidence-based Synthesis Program (ESP) Center located at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, Minneapolis, MN. It was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Office of Research and Development, Quality Enhancement Research Initiative [VA ESP Project # 09-009, 2009]. The findings and conclusions in this document are those of the author(s) who are responsible for its contents; the findings and conclusions do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States government.


  • Mental health treatment
  • Service members
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Veterans


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