A third of kids and adolescents have mental health issues after a concussion

The Hill

May 5, 2021

A group of researchers led by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) published a paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that reviewed past studies on concussions in children and adolescents.

In this paper, researchers examined the results from 69 studies published between 1980 through June 2020. The datasets had in total more than 89,000 children with concussions. They found that children ages 0 to 18 years old had concussions from falls about 42 percent of the time, while other reasons included sports injuries (about 30 percent) and car accidents (about 16 percent).

Interestingly, the researchers found that up to about 37 percent of the children and adolescents experienced internalizing problems like withdrawing, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress and 20 percent of them experienced externalizing problems like aggression, attention problems and hyperactivity.

The team found that individuals having preexisting mental health issues was a strong predictor for post-concussion mental health issues. Overall, they found that 29 percent of children who had a preexisting mental health diagnosis had new mental health diagnoses after the concussion. About 26 percent who didn’t have a preexisting diagnosis went on to develop symptoms.

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The experts hope knowing that mental health symptoms could potentially arise after a concussion will lead to more support for diagnosing and treating the symptoms.

“Despite the high incidence of concussion among children and adolescents, identifying those at risk of ongoing difficulties after concussion remains a prominent challenge for clinicians,” said Alice Gornall, an MCRI researcher and first author on the paper, according to a press release. “On top of this, children take twice as long to recover from concussion than adults, with one in four children experiencing symptoms beyond one-month post-injury.”

Experts are still learning about the full dangers of concussions and what long-term effects might occur. For example, recent research linked concussions to lower IQ scores that persisted for seven years after the injury. This study suggests that mental health is another area of concern when dealing with concussions.

“Mental health is central to concussion recovery,” said Vicki Anderson, a professor at MCRI and last author on this paper, in the press release. “Concussion may both precipitate and exacerbate mental health difficulties, impacting delayed recovery and psychosocial outcomes.”

Although the mechanisms for why concussions could lead to mental health issues are not yet understood, the authors suggest that assessment, prevention and intervention of mental health status should be a part of follow-up procedures for a concussion.

Anderson said, “Incorporating mental health risk into post-injury management represents an opportunity to engage children and adolescents with mental health services to either prevent unnecessary problems emerging or to treat already existing issues.”

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