Can Concussions Cause Suicide?

For decades, Americans have been glued to NFL Sunday or flying down the ski slope without a helmet, mostly ignorant of the perils associated with concussions. Now, the players’ lawsuit against the NFL and the publicity it inspired (including a movie called Concussion, which itself includes a suicide by an individual suffering from concussion related cognitive disorders) has placed concussions and their risks front and center. Those risks are real, and fall into two primary categories.

For those who sustain repeated head trauma, like football players, the risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is marked. CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease often linked to dementia, depression, loss of impulse control and suicide. It was recently diagnosed in 87 of 91 deceased football players.

What’s scarier is that CTE-like symptoms can even be associated with one isolated concussion. Indeed, researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that those who sustain even a mild concussion during the course of everyday activities are three times more likely to commit suicide later in life.

Although the underlying connection between concussions and suicide is not fully known, a few explanations have been offered. The most favored is that a concussion causes brain inflammation from which some patients never fully recover, and that this in turn leads to a greater risk of mental illness later in life. Other theories are that concussion victims are not giving themselves sufficient time to recover and that people who sustain concussions may have baseline life imbalances that increase their risks for depression and suicide (least favored).

So whether you are on the field or on the slope, put that helmet on. It could save you from yourself.

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