Do Concussions Cause More Suicide?

A recent study published by the Canadian Medical Association journal found that people who have suffered concussions are more likely to die by suicide, although the incidence remains rare.

Researchers at the University of Toronto examined 235,000+ adults who had suffered concussions over a 20-year period. This group was found to have an incidence rate of 31 suicides per 100,000 people. Although this represents less than 1% of the entire group, it indicates a threefold increase as compared with the broader population. This is the first study to provide empirical evidence of the association between suicides and concussions, and adds to the overall body of research on this vital issue.

The findings are no surprise to researchers and the media, who have long held that NFL players who committed suicide were at increased risk due to concussions. Other studies have found that some NFL players who committed suicide suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that can be caused by repetitive head trauma.

Dr. Robert Cantu, a concussion expert and the co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy said, “More research is needed to assess whether brain injuries themselves or other factors, including depression, are more responsible for the heightened risk of suicide. Right now there is no definitive science that tells us how much is the concussion and how much is other stuff that’s going on around it…how much is really due to structural brain injuries, and how much is due to …depression symptoms and/or addictive behaviors.”

The General Public Also at Risk

The risk is not confined to NFL players. Military veterans are also at risk, as well as ordinary citizens. Finding showed that suicide rates increased on weekends, which may reflect increased weekend participation in recreational activities or home improvement tasks without proper protection. As well, citizens may fail to seek fast or comprehensive medical attention, which could increase incidences of future anxiety and depression.

Clearly, more emphasis is needed on prevention and management of sports injuries among youth, including allowing children to heal before returning to sports, since improper rest could lead to a higher risk for additional concussions.