Community Profile: Nanaimo Brain Injury Society
Imagine you wake-up tomorrow with a pounding headache and blurry vision. Still, you get-up, get dressed and go to work. Throughout the day you have trouble holding a conversation with your colleagues, you can’t focus on the emails in your inbox and you feel drowsy and disconnected. Tomorrow, you would wake-up a very different person than you are today; and that’s exactly how a brain injury can change your life.
Helping people rediscover themselves
The Nanaimo Brain Injury Society (NBIS) is a local non-profit organization offering support to anyone affected by a brain injury. Their role is essential in our community because Nanaimo has no neurotrauma unit, so treatment for moderate to severe traumatic brain injury happens in Victoria. When a person returns to Nanaimo, NBIS provides nonmedical support to help navigate the healing journey of life after brain injury, so that they can not only survive but thrive.
“Many of the people who come to us were active and functional one day, then something happens and the next day they’ve lost that part of themselves. The critical question they have to ask is ‘who am I now’ and there is often a lot of grief and loss that goes with that question,” says Kix Citton, Executive Director of the Nanaimo Brain Injury Society.
Experiencing a brain injury is a life-changing event for a person and their family. NBIS helps people navigate their new normal through programming and support, information, referrals, and even peer support from people with lived experience.
The connection between brain injury and homelessness
The chances are very good that you know at least one person who suffers from a brain injury. In fact, brain injury is so common in our society that Canada-wide, the number surpasses that of HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injury, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis combined.
We also know now that suffering from a brain injury means an increased risk of other life challenges:
· 400% increased risk of mental health issues
· 200% increased risk of addiction
· 52% of the homeless population suffer from a brain injury – 70% of whom became homeless after their first brain injury.
NBIS sees the connection between brain injury and homelessness every single day. They work closely with service providers who support people facing homelessness in Nanaimo. As vulnerable residents are moved into supportive housing they are connected to NBIS for resources and help as they stabilize and try to rebuild their lives.
An unspoken impact of the opioid crisis
Brain injury is yet another negative impact of Canada’s opioid crisis. Although Naloxone has reversed thousands of overdoses and saved lives, the victims can often go without oxygen, resulting in chronic brain injury that can range from mild symptoms to requiring full-time care.
“We’re not talking enough about the opioid crisis and the tidal wave of brain injuries headed our way,” says Citton. “Of the people who were saved, many could be suffering from a brain injury due to lack of oxygen. We have all these survivors, who are younger and now need high levels of care, but we don’t have the services available for them.”
There is little research or data available on the number of brain injuries caused by overdose, but organizations like the Nanaimo Brain Injury Society are seeing an increased number of people seeking support.
“Given the invisibility of brain injury, we need improved data and more information to design better services. Especially for people who are experiencing substance misuse, mental health challenges, and/or homelessness, as well as a brain injury. They have trauma on top of trauma and we need to do better for them,” says Citton.
Strengthening local services through the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition
As a member of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, NBIS has the opportunity to connect with other service providers who are combating the local homelessness crisis. Together these organizations share information and resources, creating a strengthened response to help Nanaimo’s most vulnerable residents.
“We need to remove barriers in order to create systemic change to increase services for people facing a brain injury,” says Citton. “Through the Coalition I’m thrilled that we’re removing barriers among service providers, increasing awareness about brain injury, cross-training and strengthening our services. Brain injury is called the silent epidemic and is often ignored, so it’s great to be working together with people who are addressing the complexity of homelessness in our community.”
If you, or someone you know is experiencing a brain injury, please contact the Nanaimo Brain Injury Society for more information, resources and support: www.nbis.ca
To learn more about the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition and their work to combat homelessness, visit: www.nanaimohomelesscoalition.ca
 The Centre for Traumatic Life Losses - http://traumaticlifelosses.com/national-day-of-collaboration/
The Centre for Traumatic Life Losses – Quick Facts http://traumaticlifelosses.com/national-day-of-collaboration/