Concussions: A Cause of Depression?
In May of 2012, the news about Junior Seau’s apparent suicide sent shockwaves through the many who remembered and revered him as one the National Football League’s greats. Seau, known as the Monster in the Middle, is renowned for his fervent style of defense for the San Diego Chargers. His career in football spanned two decades, but unfortunately, his legacy serves as a warning to athletes everywhere—hard hitting can lead to dire circumstances.
After taking his own life, Seau’s family donated his brain for further study to the National Institutes of Health. Independent researchers concluded that the 43-year-old suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease caused by recurring head trauma such as sports concussions. Dating back to the 1920s, many boxers were known as being “punch drunk”, struggling with speech, tremors, and confusion. Its onset is caused by an increase of an abnormal protein in the brain called tau. Tau collects near sites of injury and inhibits proper brain function. Seau’s brain exhibited this cellular change, which researchers now connect to his suicide.
Multiple Concussion & Alzheimer's Symptoms
While depression is not a direct symptom of CTE, other difficulties caused by the disease may lead to depression. Symptoms of CTE are comparable to Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, which often lead to depressive symptoms. Further evidence suggests that chronic concussions and head injuries may lead to pathological changes. For example, people who experience post-concussion syndrome (issues following a concussion for any length of time), are at a higher risk of depression and dementia, compared to the general population. More startling is that teenagers demonstrate an even greater chance of developing depressive symptoms post-concussion.
Teenagers, Concussion, and Depression
Researchers from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, have discovered that many teenagers undergo emotional distress after the occurrence of a concussion. The researchers examined 37 teenagers for 37 days following a concussion. Never experiencing psychological symptoms before, 22 of the teenagers exhibited issues, such as irritability, anxiety, apathy, and depression. A study conducted through the University of California, San Diego, highlights data that is more concerning. Lead researcher Jeffrey Max, M.D., a psychiatrist and specialist of traumatic brain injuries in children and adolescents reveals “that about 10 percent of the kids had a full depressive disorder or subclinical depressive disorder 6 months after a concussion."
Additional research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicates that a history of concussions may significantly elevate the risks of teenagers’ experiencing depression. By evaluating a National Survey of Children’s Health in 2007-2008, the research team found that youth (ages 12 to 17), with a history of concussion, are three times more likely to endure depressive symptoms. Granted, the probability increased for children living with other risk factors, such as family history and poverty. However, these circumstances did not diminish the relationship between concussion and depression.
Sara Chrisman, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, expresses concern over the results. Children are susceptible to a host of other stressors surrounding the incident of a concussion: they may feel more fearful of hospital and doctors’ visits or feel socially isolated during their recovery time. Other studies indicate that high school youth typically take longer to recuperate than college students and adults. Even more interestingly, evidence points to longer recovery times for females, although no one is certain as to the cause of this difference.
Doctors are also unsure of the reasons behind recovery time for children. While some rebound easily, others may take much longer than first recognized. Some researchers speculate that teenagers may not verbalize their symptoms or may ignore warnings signs more readily. Indications of a concussion and other brain injuries include difficulties in the following areas:
Concussions Result in Mental Disorientation
What To Do With Teenagers & Concussions
Because teenagers may not be able to identify their symptoms as serious or discuss their concerns with adults, it is important for parents, coaches, and teachers to take an active role in identifying concussive symptoms for them. By paying attention to the physical symptoms, adults can help children recover more effectively and possibly prevent more severe issues, like developing depression.
If a coach or parent suspects a child has a concussion, doctors recommend that they remove the child from play immediately. It is advised to keep them from activity until they have been properly inspected by a doctor. Allow the child to get plenty of rest, and it may even be possible to create a recovery plan with the teen’s teachers. It is essential to prevent concussions in sporting events and gym classes, as well. By educating students, parents, and coaches about the dangers and causes of concussions, play will hopefully be safer. Correct protective gear may also be the difference between a traumatic event and one that only sidelines an athlete temporarily.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
American Academy of Neurology. (2014, July 10). After a concussion, which teens will have emotional symptoms?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 22, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710161523.htm
Avila, J., Pearle, L., & Goldman, R. (2013, January 10). Junior Seau Diagnosed With Disease Caused by Hits to Head: Exclusive. Retrieved January 22, 2015, from http://abcnews.go.com/US/junior-seau-diagnosed-brain-disease-caused-hits-head/story?id=18171785
Depression and Alzheimer's | Caregiver Center | Alzheimer's Association. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2015, from http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-depression.asp
Doheny, K. (2012, May 11). Concussions: Girls Have Longer Recovery Time. Retrieved January 22, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20120511/concussions-girls-have-longer-recovery-time
Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health. (2014, January 9). Teen concussions increase risk for depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 22, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109175502.htm
Injury Prevention & Control: Traumatic Brain Injury. (2010, March 8). Retrieved January 22, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/signs_symptoms.html#4
University of Alabama at Birmingham. (2012, May 2). Junior Seau’s death keeps spotlight on concussion issues in sports. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 22, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120502184422.htm
Ziegler, T. (n.d.). Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Retrieved January 22, 2015, from http://www.sportsmd.com/Articles/id/44/cid/1/n/chronic_traumatic_encephalopathy.aspx#sthash.2wVU10PW.dpbs
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