The specific long-lasting effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) – whether due to accidents, high-impact sports or other causes – are difficult to pin down. From concussion-related lawsuits brought against the National Football League, specialists know that TBI is often correlated with depression, dementia and cognitive impairment. Scientific research into the field is complex and, so far, limited, but a new study has shed light on TBI’s effects on teenagers’ mental health.
The study included nearly 5,000 public school students from 11 to 20 years old in Ontario, Canada. The students were asked whether they had ever suffered TBI (defined as a head injury that resulted in at least five minutes of unconsciousness or at least one overnight stay at a hospital). Their mental and emotional health was then assessed with a questionnaire on symptoms of anxiety, depression and social dysfunction. They were asked whether they had ever considered or attempted suicide, contacted a crisis hotline or been prescribed medication for anxiety or depression.
Twenty percent of students reported TBI to the researchers. Compared to those who did not report TBI, those who did were more than three times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly twice as likely to have thought about suicide and 2.45 times as likely to have been prescribed psychotropic medication.
Currently, modern medicine has very little ability to treat concussions directly and only moderate ability to treat the lasting debilitating symptoms. Our best weapon is prevention. Make sure your children wear helmets while riding bicycles. If they engage in high-impact sports, make sure they wear helmets when appropriate. Consider speaking with athletic officials about their policy concerning TBI prevention and response.