Student athletes with concussions more at risk for suicide, study finds

January 6, 2020
Linda Stouffer-WSB-TV (Atlanta, GA)

A somber warning for parents: A new study finds that concussions in high school athletes may be a risk factor for suicide.

Concussions are the most common form of traumatic brain injury. Symptoms include loss of consciousness, headache, confusion and changes in mood.

Channel 2′s Linda Stouffer spoke to Dale Mantey, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

Mantley found that more than 13,000 teenagers who self-reported having a concussion in the last year reported feelings of depression, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts.

“We were, I guess, surprised and shocked by just how strong the effects really were, especially among boys,” Mantley told Stouffer.

But a local doctor disputed some of the findings in the study.

Stouffer spoke to neuropsychologist Dr. David Schwartz at Northside Hospital Duluth, who said parents and student athletes shouldn’t overreact to the study.

“Concussions don’t cause suicide, and that’s really important for people to understand,” Schwartz said. “Now what you have to be concerned about is if somebody has pre-existing mental health issues, then they would possibly be at a greater risk.”

Schwartz said the study used self-reporting, which is prone to bias.

But Mantley said the study took bias into account, and that parents needed to pay close attention to their children.

“Monitor your student athlete,” Mantley said. “If there are any changes in mood, any changes in behavior, keep an eye on that and have a conversation with your child.”

Schwartz said some kids who experience concussions may need more support with schoolwork or counseling to stay on track. Coaches can also help protect student athletes by being aware of concussions.

“They’d have to teach good technique and do the things that we know help minimize risk,” Schwartz said.

Darin Wilson is the athletic director at Georgia Gwinnett College and works closely with Northside Hospital’s Concussion Institute. He said all student athletes who have signs of a concussion go through a protocal before returning to the filed.

“We’re not going to take a chance of putting a player back on the field or quarter competition without making absolutely sure that they’re as healthy as they can possibly be,” Wilson said. “I’d rather lose a game than lose a kid.”

Wilson said anyone recovering from a concussion should listen to his or her body.

“Well, I would say make sure you feel like you’re healthy,” Wilson said. “Nobody knows their bodies as well we do, you know, the individual person.”

Schwartz said the most important thing is to address the issue immediately to help avoid long-term problems.

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