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Do Basic Psychological Needs Exists?  A health promotion initiative through the lens of traumatic brain injury survivors & their caregivers

Part 1

Samira Omar

posted April 1, 2017

Is there such a thing as an existence of basic psychological needs? If asked this question, most individuals would find themselves agreeing without much thought. On a theoretical level, and according to Sheldon (2004), basic psychological needs do exist. However, this is a subjective phenomenon that can be interpreted in many different ways, one being that of universals. A universal need is one which every human possesses, regardless of quantity and expression; one that is required to maximize well-being and enhance quality of life (Sheldon, 2004). Researchers agree that there are approximately three main universal needs, including the needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy. If you take a moment to truly understand these needs, it is the need for relatedness that is the most fundamental (Ibarra-Rovillard & Kuiper, 2011). Evidently, this is a result of its early emergence in infancy, as well as the positive effect it has on mental health, specifically with depression. There is also consensus among multiple theoretical perspectives, including terror management theory (Sheldon, 2004). However, this is often seen through the lens of the average person - someone who goes through what we typically call ‘normal’ phases of life, such as losing a job, a friend, or moving away from home.


Does the need for relatedness remain the same across all individuals, regardless of life- changing experiences? Can the same be said for someone who has sustained a traumatic brain injury? Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur when an external object forcefully impacts the skull, resulting in the rapid movement of the brain and consequently altering normal functioning (Andelic, 2013). Around the world, TBIs are a major public health issue, affecting people of all ages. The incidence is far greater than any other common disease such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, HIV/AIDs, and breast cancer (Prins, Greco, Alexander, & Giza, 2013). Given its high prevalence, the incidence worldwide is only expected to increase. According to the World Health Organization, by the year 2020, TBIs will surpass all other diseases as the major cause of death and disability (Hyder, Wunderlich, Puvanachandra, Gururaj, & Kobusingye, 2007).


TBI is considered to be a silent epidemic, considering that the rest of society is oblivious to the magnitude of its existence (Roozenbeek, Maas, & Menon, 2013). What researchers have not fully taken into consideration is the idea that as humans go through life with varying experiences, the need for relatedness becomes much more crucial for well-being, especially when faced with adversity that is well beyond typical expectations. People don’t often think that one day they will wake up in a hospital bed unable to do many of the things that they were once able to - that’s what it’s like to have a TBI. In a healthy person, relatedness is the number one basic need. Now imagine someone with a TBI: relatedness is a fundamental aspect in their recovery, increasing their chances of successfully reintegrating back into society. What about caregivers? How does the need to relate impact their mental well-being and their ability to empathetically care for someone with a TBI?



Andelic, N. (2013). The epidemiology of traumatic brain injury. The Lancet Neurology, 12(1), 28. Hyder, A. A., Wunderlich, C. A., Puvanachandra, P., Gururaj, G., & Kobusingye, O. C. (2007). The impact of traumatic brain injuries: a global perspective. NeuroRehabilitation, 22(5), 341-353.

Ibarra-Rovillard, M., & Kuiper, N. A. (2011). Social support and social negativity findings in depression: Perceived responsiveness to basic psychological needs. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(3), 342-352.

Leith, K. H., Phillips, L., & Sample, P. L. (2004). Exploring the service needs and experiences of persons with TBI and their families: The South Carolina Experience. Brain Injury, 18(12), 1191-1208.

Prins, M., Greco, T., Alexander, D., & Giza, C. C. (2013). The pathophysiology of traumatic brain injury at a glance. Disease Models & Mechanisms, 6(6), 1307-1315.

Roozenbeek, B., Maas, A. I., & Menon, D. K. (2013). Changing patterns in the epidemiology of traumatic brain injury. Nature Reviews Neurology, 9(4), 231-236.

Sheldon, K. M. (2004). Optimal human being: An integrated multi-level perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

World Health Organization (2015, December) Health and Human Rights. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs323/en/.