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Concussions Can Lead to Suicide

Concussions Can Lead to Suicide

by Kevin Caruso

Concussions are a very common problem with athletes, particularly with football players. And many athletes who sustain concussions have complained of various problems afterwards, including depression and anxiety.

And a study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology indicates that concussions can indeed cause a myriad of problems and conditions, including:

  • Biochemical disturbance in the brain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Memory problems
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise

Another very important study on concussions was presented at the 2003 meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. This study focused on retired pro football players and was titled, "Recurrent Sport-Related Concussion Linked to Clinical Depression."

The objectives of the study included trying to determine if concussions could be a cause for clinical depression or for Alzheimer's disease.

"The purpose of the study was two-fold," said Dr. Julian Bailes, a co-author of the study. "First, we wanted to find out if there was a significant relationship between concussion history and depression, and second, whether recurrent concussions predisposed players to Alzheimer's disease."

The data for the study was from questionnaires that were completed by about 1,800 retired NFL football players in 2001. The average age of the responding player was 58. The questionnaires were designed and analyzed by The Center for the Study of Retired Athletes.

The data indicated the following:

  • 61 percent of the players sustained one concussion during their NFL career
  • 24 percent sustained three or more concussions
  • 12 percent sustained five or more concussions
  • The average number of concussions was 2.1
  • 71 percent returned to play on the same day that they sustained a concussion

The researchers found that no significant association existed between concussions and Alzheimer's disease.

But the researchers found that a highly significant association existed between concussions and clinical depression.

Eleven percent of the respondents had been diagnosed with clinical depression, and 87 percent of those players still suffered from clinical depression. Of the 87 percent, 46 percent were being treated with antidepressants. Additionally, 64 percent of those with depression indicated that their depression limited their daily activities.

"The findings significantly underscore the importance of understanding and evaluating the potential neurological consequences of recurrent mild traumatic brain injuries," said co-author Dr. Bailes. "Not only do concussions and other head injuries in early adulthood significantly raise the risk of depression decades later, but concussions are reported to have a permanent effect on thinking and memory skills later in life."

"Our study underscores the importance of considering the long-term consequences of concussion," said Kevin Guskiewicz, co-author of the study. "I think the question here is whether we as clinicians are paying close enough attention to potential long-term consequences [of repeated concussions], and I think our study calls attention to the likelihood that there are long-term consequences with respect to depression. It's unclear why repeated concussions increase the likelihood of depression, [but] it's the question everybody wants answered, and we're trying to do it."

Although the study was based on retired NFL players, researchers said that the findings apply to participants of organized football for all age groups in the U.S., and thus many young players are affected because, according to Centers for Disease Control, about 240,000 young players suffer concussions each year in the U.S.

"There are implications beyond the NFL," Guskiewicz said. "It's likely that these results [are applicable to] the college level, the high school level and the Pop Warner level."

And multiple concussions are cumulative, leaving the individual who sustained the concussions at a greater risk for serious, permanent brain injury and clinical depression.

"Multiple concussions can be cumulative, and that's where the more significant deficits occur," said Gary Pace, director of the May Center for Education and Neuro-rehabilitation of Brockton, Mass. "We do know now that as a result of multiple concussions, the brain becomes more vulnerable to more long-term kinds of brain injuries, which results in some of the depression we see in individuals."

And even if the player recovers fully from a concussion before returning to the play, the likelihood of sustaining a subsequent concussion is increased.

"We've done several studies showing that concussions are cumulative," says Joseph Maroon, vice chair of the department of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh and team physician of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "If you return to football while still suffering the effects, the chances of having a more severe concussion, caused by less force, are greater; but we are finding that individuals who have had one or two concussions are more susceptible beyond the recovery period."

Also, because the brain is not fully developed until people are in their early 20s, the risk for serious brain injury is greater for those players who are younger than 25. The risk is particularly great for high school football players because the players are big enough and strong enough to hit each other with tremendous force, but their brains are most definitely not fully mature.

"The study's findings underscore the dangers of concussion, which could be greater in youngsters with still-developing brains," Pace said.

Because concussions can cause clinical depression, concussions can also lead to suicide because untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.

And since the effects of concussions can last for years or decades after they are sustained, depression and suicididal thoughs can surface at any juncture in the future.

Clearly, anyone who has sustained a concussion needs to be immediately evaluated and treated by a doctor, and closely monitored thereafter.

Also, the individual should see a therapist. This will allow an additional professional to monitor any symptoms that may manifest themselves and suggest possible treatment.

Regular visits with a doctor and therapist should continue for a minimum of one year if there are no symptoms; but should continue as long as necessary if symptoms exist. But the player should realize that if symptoms have ameliorated that he is still susceptible to depression, suicidal thoughts, and other problems in the future. Thus, continued vigilance should always exist; and any future problems with depression should immediately be brought to the attention of a doctor and therapist.

Additionally, it is very important for anyone who has experienced a concussion to be immediately informed about all potential problems associated with concussions -- which include possible depression and suicidal thoughts -- and to be encouraged to speak up immediately when he or she experiences a problem.

It should be noted that not all concussions cause chemical imbalances in the brain, depression, suicidal thoughts, or other problems, but many do, and thus all concussions need to be taken very seriously.

So it is clear that concussions should ALWAYS be taken seriously. Concussions can have long-term effects and can cause a variety of problems, including clinical depression, and can potentially lead to suicide.


Corey Bischof was a handsome, popular, intelligent and talented star high school football quarterback who had everything going for him; but Corey sustained a serious concussion while playing football, and died by suicide in his senior year.

It is most likely that Corey died by suicide because of biochemical and neurological problems associated with his concussion.

For more information about this fine young man, please visit his memorial:

Corey Bischof Memorial

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please go to the Home Page of this website for immediate help.

Thank you.

I love you.

Take care,

Kevin Caruso

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