Concussions have been in the professional sport spotlight for the last couple years and for good reason. The average number of concussions over the last four seasons in the NFL is 160. In the NHL from 2005 to 2011 there was an average of 63 concussions per season. There have been a growing number of reports on the problems associated with chronic concussions and a disorder identified, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. There is even a movie about the discovery of the this devastating brain disorder staring Will Smith. Our understanding of how concussions can affect the brain and a person’s long term health has evolved vastly over the last decade. We now know that having numerous concussions can cause a person to become depressed, suicidal, have problems with memory, or have troubles sleeping. Now new data suggests that even one concussion in normal everyday life can greatly increase a person’s risk of committing suicide.
The research, done in Toronto, studied a cohort of adults who were diagnosed with a concussion from 1992 to 2012 (a total of 235,110 people). They split the concussions that these people suffered into those diagnosed on a weekday or a weekend in an effort to determine where the concussion happened. Weekday concussions typically happen as a result of someone’s job while weekend concussions are often a result of recreational activities like sports. They excluded any people who had concussions that required hospitalization as these are certainly severe concussions and the researchers were interested in the effect of seemingly mild to moderate concussions on suicide risk. Comparing the rate of suicide in the concussion group with the rate of suicide in the rest of Canada, the researchers saw that people who had suffered a concussion were 3 times more likely to commit suicide than the normal population. The rate of suicide for someone having suffered a concussion was 31 deaths per 100,000 people and was 9 deaths per 100,000 people for the average population. This rate was even greater if the concussion was suffered on the weekend, presumably during recreational activities. Here the rate was 4 times greater than in the general population (39 deaths per 100,000). This is probably because concussions suffered in sporting or recreational activities are likely to be more severe than those suffered while on the job.
This study highlights the need for research that helps us understand the changes that happen in the brain after a concussion. Additionally, greater attention to a person who has suffered a concussion could help us save lives, especially if a person becomes suicidal. We don’t yet know how to stop concussions from happening and this study isn’t trying to prevent you from doing things you love, however we do need to be aware of the negative consequences of concussions and we need to have the proper resources in place to help people who are suffering.