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Concussion in High School Students May Increase Suicide Risk

December 04, 2019

New research suggests high school students who have had a sports-related concussion may be at increased risk of dying by suicide.

The study, published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders, examined survey data from more than 13,000 high school students in the United States to investigate the link between self-reported history of concussion and risk factors for suicide completion. About 15% of respondents reported having suffered a concussion.

Students who reported having a concussion within the last year were more likely to report feelings of depression, suicidal ideation, and planned or previous suicide attempts. About 36% of students who reported a history of concussions reported they had felt sad or hopeless, compared with 31.1% of all respondents. Approximately 21% of the students with a self-reported concussion history reported having thoughts of suicide, compared with 17% of the general survey population.

Brain Scans Differ in People With History of Suicide Attempt

Researchers also found gender-specific differences. Male students who reported having a concussion within the last year were twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and three times as likely to report having received medical treatment for an attempted suicide, compared with respondents who did not report a recent concussion.

Female students with a concussion history were more likely to report all risk factors of suicide, as well as feeling sad or hopeless, suicidal ideation, a planned suicide attempt, having attempted suicide, and receiving medical treatment for an attempted suicide, compared with females who did not report having a concussion in the last year.

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

Lead author Dale Mantey, a doctoral student at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, said medical attention is critical when a concussion is suspected.

“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,” Mantey said.

—Terri Airov

References

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. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2019 November 11;[Epub ahead of print].

Concussions in high school athletes may be a risk factor for suicide [press release]. Houston, TX: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; November 25, 2019.

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