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Study: Concussions May Increase Risk of Suicide

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Student-athletes who have suffered concussions may be more at risk to commit suicide, according to a new study from the University of Texas School of Public Health. 

The study, which was led by doctoral student Dale Mantley, found that more than 13,000 teenagers who self-reported concussions in the last year reported feeling of depression, thought of suicide and suicide attempts.

"We were, I guess, surprised and shocked by just how strong the effects really were, especially among boys," Mantley told WSB-TV in Atlanta.

While the study was indeed dramatic, neuropsychologist Dr. Davide Schwartz, who wasn’t involved in the study, cautioned parents and student-athletes from putting too much into the study’s findings.

"Concussions don't cause suicide, and that's really important for people to understand," Schwartz said. “Now what you have to be concerned about is if somebody has pre-existing mental health issues, then they would possibly be at a greater risk."

Mantley said the study took bias into account and that parents need to pay close attention to the children.

"Monitor your student athlete," Mantley said. "If there are any changes in mood, any changes in behavior, keep an eye on that and have a conversation with your child."

According to a summary of the study, of the portion of students who reported a history of concussions, approximately 36 percent reported they had felt sad or hopeless (compared to 31.1 percent of all teens) and around 21 percent had thoughts of suicide (compared to 17 percent). 

Male participants with a reported concussion in the last year were twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and three times more likely to report a history of receiving medical treatment for an attempted suicide than those who did not have a recent concussion.

The researchers noted that while the study did control for commonly associated suicide risk factors like sexual orientation and a history of being bullied, it did not account for other risk factors like drug or alcohol use. There were no measures of pre-concussion mental health for survey participants.

“Concussions are a traumatic brain injury and they are even worse for young people with developing brains,” said Steven H. Kelder, PhD, MPH, senior author and Beth Toby Grossman Distinguished Professor in Spirituality and Healing at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin. “These injuries can have long-term effects such as memory issues and sleep disturbances.”

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