Canada: Concussions: Emerging From A Dark Room After A Traumatic Brain Injury

Last Updated: July 12 2017
Article by Michael J. Henry

A dark room. It's a place where many people with concussions go as they attempt to recover from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can cause sensitivity to light, noise and other stimulation. It's also a metaphor for a place people with TBIs find themselves as they confront severe depression, anxiety and other psychological symptoms that can often result from these injuries.

"A Dark Room," a superb documentary film on sports-related concussions, explores both treatment options and how some athletes who have sustained head injuries deal with the ups and downs of recovery. Purchased by the National Film Board of Canada, it has aired on CBC and is currently being used as an educational tool in high schools to prompt discussions about concussions in contact sports.

The three central figures in the film (former semi-professional hockey player Max Taylor, psychiatrist Dr. Shree Bhalerao and psychiatry resident Dr. Ryan Todd) all share a love of Canada's game. Taylor's promising career on the ice, like so many others, was brought to an end after a series of concussions made continuing impossible. Drs. Bhalerao and Todd, both natives of Saskatchewan who played the game as amateurs, treat many people in their practice who, like Taylor, have battled the psychological effects of a brain changing injury.

Although hockey is the lens through which viewers see this story, the lessons we can draw from this documentary have wide application. Concussions, like other TBIs, can be life-altering injuries. For players like Taylor, being sidelined with an injury removes them from their teams peer networks and support systems, and can leave them feeling isolated as they rest and allow the brain to recover. It can be an intensely lonely period when a person may feel misunderstood by people around them – especially if the injury causes changes in mood, personality, or functional ability.

In this blog post, I draw on the interviews from "A Dark Room," to examine the paths to concussion recovery, the struggles patients may have with psychological symptoms and the emerging and exciting treatment option of neuroplasticity to help people with TBIs to exit that dark room and return to an active and enjoyable life.

Back To Square One

"That first concussion – it felt like I was back to square one in life," recalls Taylor in the film. "I couldn't talk. I couldn't put words together. Everything bothered me. I couldn't watch TV, I couldn't have lights on. For five months I just sat in the dark waiting for these symptoms to subside."

Rest alone may not lead to a full recovery for all people who have sustained concussions. While some systems may dissipate, other normal brain function may be permanently altered.

"The brain's an intricate blob," Dr. Bhalerao tells viewers. "It's just a blob of stuff. The blob of stuff communicates with cells and neurotransmitters. It's such a finely-tuned machine that any type of disruption makes it difficult to repair itself as it was before. If you were to slice the brain you'll see it's a nice, glistening picture of parallel circuits. When damage like this happens to the brain it loses that parallel circuitry. That's one of the key elements that happens with concussions, you lose that symmetry and the connections obviously are lost."

Psychological Effects and Physical Recovery

As Dr. Todd, explains, in additional to changes in functional abilities, "over the long term you can have the psychiatric effects. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts. You're more apt to use drugs and alcohol as well. A third of the patients we see go on to have these psychiatric effects after the three-month period that most people will clear from a concussion."

Although mental illness still carries a stigma in society generally, the sports arena, which values toughness and determination to push through the pain, can be a particularly difficult place for players to speak about their internal struggles.

Sportscaster Michael Landsberg, who has spoken openly about his own battles with long-term depression suggests that "people ignore it because it's not sexy and because it's not a sports story. In a lot of ways the sports world isn't really capable of dealing with something like this. This is totally out of their comfort zone."

Yet Landsberg's powerful advocacy offers a way to change perceptions. In a powerful segment of the documentary, he explains: "If you come out and share it with a group of people, or your boss, or a television audience, and you say it in a way that you have something to be ashamed of, then they'll see it as a weakness. Say it weak and they'll see you as weak. But say it strong... Come out and say 'I suffer from a mental illness. For the last 15 years I've suffered from depression. Five times I've fallen into the deepest hole of depression and all five of those times I had no quality of life. But you know what? None of that was ever my fault. I didn't choose it. Who would choose it? I couldn't bring it upon myself and I couldn't get out of it without help.' You can tell me a lot of things about mental illness but you can't tell me that it's a reflection of weakness because I'm not weak."

While they may show some vulnerability, as viewers hear from the likes of athletes like Taylor, former NHL star Eric Lindros and Olympian Haley Wickenheiser, it is clear they are speaking from a position of strength.

A Variety of Treatments

Interestingly, each of these players and each person with a TBI may share common symptoms or develop common psychological disorders, but respond to treatments in very different ways. As Dr. Todd notes: "We always say some therapies work for some people in some situations. It's not as though every person with one disorder can get talk therapy. Some disorders don't respond to talk therapy. Some disorders only respond to medication." There is no once-size-fits all approach to treating mental illness or other symptoms of concussion.

One treatment which is eliciting much excitement within the field is the concept of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the idea that the human brain can be rewired through non-invasive treatment. The topic of a recent conference titled Understanding the Healing Brain, hosted by Howie, Sacks & Henry (HSH) and featuring a keynote address by noted expert Dr. Norman Doidge, neuroplasticity treatments help patients retrain their brain to form new connections and links in order to regain some functional abilities.

Dr. Bhalerao explains that recovery, including those involving neuroplasticity, take time, but can be very effective in helping people with TBIs emerge from the physical and metaphorical dark room. "Patience, patience, patience," he cautions. "Inches equal miles. Things do not happen fast. We live in a world where there is instant gratification and instant change. I remind them that this is not what's going to happen. You have changed. But, you have not changed totally. An analogy I like is if you have a wheel and you remove some of the spokes. The wheel still turns, but you have to get used to the new wheel. If you can move toward accepting that instead of constantly comparing – that is depressing. You have to focus on what you have."


After suffering an injury that can cause a terrible loss – of functional physical ability, of psychological calm, of support networks – focusing on what you have can be difficult. However, knowing that even when there are fewer spokes on the wheel it can still turn should provide hope. With neuroplasticity's ability to rebuild the wheel and add in new spokes, there's even more room for optimism.

A long and slow recovery from TBIs is definitely an intense struggle, but there is light outside of that dark room. And the more that documentaries like "A Dark Room" shed light on this topic and destigmatize the effects of concussions, the better equipped all of us will be to join and support this recovery effort for our friends and loved ones.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.