Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults. The reasons for suicide are complex. Concussions have been linked to increase risked of suicide in adults. It is not clear if concussions affect suicide risk in young adults. Concussions can happen after accidents but are common in young adults who play sports like football, hockey, soccer, and basketball.
Researchers wanted to see if there is a link between concussions and suicide in high school students. The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that high school students with a history of sports-related concussions might be at greater risk for suicide.
This was a cohort study of 13,353 high school students in the United States. They were asked if they had gotten a concussion from sports or physical activity in the last year. They were also asked questions that measure suicidal behaviors.
About 15% of the student reported that they had a concussion in the last year. Those who reported concussion had greater risk of:
Both males and females with concussion history had increased risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Cohort studies are observational studies. They watch events as they happen. They do not control other factors that may affect the risk of suicide. This means the study cannot prove concussions cause suicide, it can only suggest a link. This study did measure possible effect of suicide risk factors such as bullying or sexuality. However, there was no record of mental health before the concussion so it is not clear if the concussion itself caused a change. The study also used self-reports, which may or may not be reliable. Students may have been reluctant to report feelings of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempt.
Concussions are known to cause long term changes to the brain. Young adult brain may be most vulnerable because they are still growing and developing. Seek medical care if your child has a head injury and signs of a concussion such as blackout, confusion, ringing in ear, dizziness, or nausea. Follow the care plan carefully. Be familiar with the warning signs of depression. Seek medical care if your child has talk abut harming or killing themselves. Talk to your child's doctor about any concerns you may have.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Mantey DS, Omega-Njemnobi O, et al. Self-reported history of concussions is associated with risk factors for suicide completion among high school students. J Affect Disord. 2019 Nov 11. p11:S0165-0327(19)30963-2.
Sports-related concussion. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sports-related-concussion. Updated March 12, 2019. Accessed November 29, 2019.
Last reviewed November 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 11/29/2019