Concussion may be associated with risk factors of suicide in adolescents

Using data obtained from a large sample of high school students, a team of researchers discovered that a history of sport-related concussion increased the risk of suicide risk factors, such as feelings of depression.

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Concussion has been associated to increased risk of depression and suicide in adults, however, this relationship is not well studied in youth.

Recently, a team of researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston (UTHealth; TX, USA) discovered that high school students with a history of sport-related concussion may have an increased risk of suicide completion.

In the study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the team used a nationally representative sample of high school students to investigate the link between self-reported history of concussion and risk factors for suicide completion.

        It’s important to remember that when it comes to concussions, there’s no visual test to confirm them. Unfortunately, you can’t take your child to have a lab test done to diagnose one,” explained Dale Mantey (UTHealth), lead study author.

The researchers collected data from 13,000 U.S. high school students. Participants were asked if they had sustained a sport-related concussion, as well as questions that assessed potential suicidal behavior.

After analyzing the data, the researchers discovered that participants who reported having a concussion in the last year were more likely to report feelings of depression, suicidal ideations and planned or previous suicide attempts.

Overall, 15% of participants reported a sport-related concussion in the past year. From this group 36% reported they felt sad or hopelessness and 21% reported suicidal thoughts, compared with 31.1% and 17% of the total sample population. Demonstrating that sport-related concussions are significantly associated with factors of suicide.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics revealed that female high school athletes have higher concussion rates than their male counterparts. Furthermore, findings from this current study revealed that sex may also impact the relationship between history of sport-related concussion and risk of suicide completion.

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

In the study the researchers did control for factors commonly associated with suicide risk, such as a history of being bullied. however, they did not control other factors like drug and alcohol abuse and there were no measures of the participants state of mental health before sustaining a concussion.

         Everyone needs to be aware of the warning signs and the risks that come with concussions – parents, teachers, coaches, but also the students themselves,” Mantey concluded. “If there is any concern that a child may have suffered a concussion, it is critical to seek medical attention. If a child is diagnosed with a concussion, everyone in their support network should look for changes in mood or behavior that may be warning signs of reduced mental well-being."

Sources: Mantey DS, Omega-Njemnobi O, Barroso CS, Kelder SH. Self-reported history of concussions is associated with risk factors for suicide completion among high school students. J. Affect. Disord. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2019.11.047 (2019) (Epub ahead of print); https://www.uth.edu/news/story.htm?id=96956fae-b3fc-4d8b-a501-b6da7f10a7e9

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Kimberley Ndungu

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