Concussions heighten suicide risk threefold, according to a recent study featured on Monday, February 8, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Research was conducted by a team of scientists led by Dr. Donald Redelmeier, senior scientist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center from Toronto.
The purpose of the study was to determine if there was any association between sustaining a concussion and having a higher suicide risk.
Prior surveys had focused exclusively on traumatic brain injuries that occurred on the sports field or during warfare, assessing the propensity for self-harm and suicide among professional athletes and members of the armed forces.
Now however, more commonplace concussions were analyzed, in order to see if ordinary people who had experienced them had a higher likelihood of becoming suicidal.
By going through medical records pertaining to Ontario patients, researchers concluded that in a period spanning across 2 decades, 235,000 individuals had sustained a traumatic brain injury, without requiring hospitalization or surgery. Of these individuals, 677 eventually died by suicide, usually 6 years after their initial concussion.
When comparing the likelihood of suicide among this group with that estimated among Canada’s general population, study authors were shocked to discover the staggering difference between the two values.
More precisely, the annual suicide rate among people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries was calculated at 31 per 100,000, which is more than three times as high as the one normally recorded throughout Canada (9 per 100,000).
Researchers also discovered that concussions were especially dangerous when they happened during the weekend, patients with such brain injuries having suicide rates four times higher than the national average.
Study authors took into account prior mental problems that affected the subjects who eventually committed suicide, but even in the absence of such contributing factors the correlation still remained statistically significant.
While the findings only indicate an link between concussions and suicide risk, without establishing a cause and effect relationship between the two, researchers have been theorizing regarding a possible explanation for this association.
For example, it may be that multiple concussions cause irreversible brain damage and disrupt brain chemistry, making people more vulnerable to depression, bipolar disorders and other psychological ailments that cause mood alterations and increase the propensity for suicide or self-harm.
Alternatively, it may be that concussions are actually more likely among people that already suffer from affective mood disorders, given the fact that such emotional problems sometimes result in increased impulsiveness and carelessness, which make the individual much more accident-prone than usual.
Experts have also identified a potential reason why weekend concussions tend to be the ones most closely associated with an elevated suicide risk.
According to Dr. Robert Glatter, emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, those who suffer a brain injury during weekdays are usually either at work or at school when that happens, which is why they receive more adequate medical care, as well as follow-up examinations so that doctors can make sure no debilitating side effects have persisted.
In contrast, those who have concussions during the weekend usually get injured while playing sports or carrying out other recreational activities.
In many cases, they undermine the severity of their brain trauma, failing to seek medical advice and treatment or to take a medical leave in order to recover, even when experiencing worrying symptoms or complications.
Based on these findings, study authors believe that concussions should be more painstakingly reported by patients and more carefully taken into account by doctors, because they are a vital piece of puzzle when it comes to the individual’s medical history.
In addition, people who have had brain injuries should be more closely monitored by attending physicians and also by family and friends, so that suicidal tendencies can be detected and countered as soon as possible.
By and large, manifestations that can indicate a person may be on the verge of self-destruction include: extreme moodiness, depression, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, social withdrawal, substance abuse, suicide ideation etc.
Image Source: Flickr