Concussion raises long-term suicide risk

Concussion has received a lot of attention in the media in recent years. We now understand it to be a much more serious issue than was once thought.

We are seeing professional athletes dealing with lifelong issues after experiencing many of these brain injuries. More recently, we have learned some of the long-term effects even a single concussion can have on the brain and future functioning.

A recent study out of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto found adults who experience a concussion increase their long-term suicide risk to three times the average.  Perhaps not surprisingly, risk was further increased in individuals who experienced more than one concussion.

Interestingly, the study also found the risk is four times higher if the concussion occurs on a weekend – researchers weren’t sure why, but believe this could be due to a greater likelihood that weekend concussions are the result of risk-taking behaviour. A person who is more likely to take risks in their spare time could also be more pre-disposed to impulsive or risky behaviour and a higher suicide risk in general.

For this study, researchers examined the health records of more than 235,000 concussion patients between 1992 and 2012. During that period, 667 of those patients committed suicide. On average those who committed suicide did so about six years after receiving their concussion.

Of course, the researchers in this study are quick to point out that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. It may not be that concussion causes suicide – it is possible those getting a concussion have a predisposition to self-harm in some way.

Still, it does raise the question and contribute to a growing sense that even a seemingly minor brain injury can lead to life-long issues.

Many people who have suffered with one or more concussions can tell you that things were different after their injury. Mood or temperament changes are not uncommon and don’t always resolve with time. This is not totally surprising when we consider that a concussion is a traumatic brain injury.

More research is needed before we will have a complete understanding of exactly what occurs when we receive a concussion.

In the meantime, health care professionals should be taking the time to do routine screening with patients for concussion history and to assess suicide risk.

And for the rest of us, it is a good reminder to wear those helmets, take care and do our best to prevent concussion in the first place. If a concussion does occur, visit your doctor and take special precautions to avoid a second injury. The best way to recover is to take ample time to rest while the brain heals.








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