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Teens With Multiple Concussions Face Higher Risk of Suicidal Thoughts

TUESDAY, Nov. 21, 2023 (HealthDay News) — A year after suffering a concussion, teens, especially boys, are more likely than their peers to think about, plan and even attempt suicide, new research finds.

With more concussions, the risk grows. 

Teen boys who reported two or more concussions in the past year were two times more likely to report a suicide attempt than those who had one concussion. Girls' odds for suicidal behaviors were similar regardless of concussion history.

"This type of research is never easy to discuss, but it is vitally important to understand who is at risk and why," study co-author Steve Broglio, director of the University of Michigan Concussion Center, said in a university news release.

The findings were published Nov.16 in the Journal of Athletic Training.

Researchers believe it to be the first study to look at the relationship between concussion frequency and suicidal behaviors in a representative sample of U.S. high schoolers.

Lead author Jacob Kay, a research affiliate at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, said it was already known that brain injuries can touch off or worsen mental health challenges.

"Our study further highlights the importance of evaluating mental health among both male and female youth that have sustained a concussion," he said in the news release. "This is particularly true for those who have sustained multiple concussions in a short time."

For the study, his team analyzed 2017 and 2019 data from about 17,400 respondents in the National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

Among key findings, based on teens' own reporting:

  • 15% of students had one or more concussions and 6% had two or more in the past year. That included 17% of boys and 13% of girls.

  • 44% of girls and 24% of boys reported feeling sad or hopeless.

  • 24% of girls and 13% of boys had suicidal thoughts.

  • 19% of girls and 10% of boys reported planning suicide.

  • 10% of girls and 5% of boys reported a suicide attempt, and 3% of girls and 1% of boys reported being injured during the attempt.

Researchers said health care providers should pay close attention to mental health in young people, especially those who have had concussions.

Kay said research suggests girls may struggle more after a head injury, but the reasons for observed sex differences aren't fully understood.

While the findings suggest boys may engage in suicidal behaviors more impulsively, researchers warned against drawing conclusions about cause. Kay said there is also a "silent struggle" in boys regarding mental health.

"In the context of concussion, this could mean there are even fewer red flags among males intending self-harm," he said.

More information

There's more about concussion at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Nov. 16, 2023

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