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Link between concussions and suicide growing stronger

Increased evidence points to a growing understanding of the link between behaviour and cognitive changes after a concussion and the link to suicide, says Toronto critical injury lawyer Salvatore Shaw.

A recent study of 235,000 concussion patients found that adults who experience a concussion appear to have a long-term suicide risk three times higher than that of the general population, the Canadian Press reports.

While the study does not go so far as to say that concussions directly caused the suicides, Shaw says he believes the connection is strong.

“I think there is more likely a direct cause or connection between concussions and a higher risk of suicide, and that a concussion is not simply just a marker” Shaw, a partner with McLeish Orlando LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The study, led by a senior scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, analyzed Ontario health records between 1992 and 2012. Over that 20-year period, 667 people with a history of concussion died by suicide.

The researchers found that patients who experienced a concussion were at increased risk of suicide regardless of demographic factors such as age, sex, socioeconomic status or past psychiatric conditions, the article says.

Shaw says concussions can cause significant changes in health and overall mental well-being.

“There can be cognitive problems, headaches and emotional changes, depression,” Shaw says. “All these symptoms could increase someone’s risk of suicide over the long term.”

Proving the link, however, is not always easy. Every case is fact specific, he says.

With the body of medical evidence growing, Shaw says it’s important to emphasize the significance of injury prevention and speedy medical intervention to reduce the potential for long-term effects of concussions.

“For a child injured with a concussion, for example, they may be required to stay home from school, take a break from using electronic devices and watching TV, in order to give the brain a chance to recover from the trauma,” he says. “Early recognition, assessment and treatment is critical. This helps with identifying and reducing the effects of a concussion as well as improving recovery time and recovery potential.”

Parents, teachers and coaches should strive to reduce the risk of concussions to players, athletes and students in order to avoid concussions in the first place, he adds.

Shaw says if a player may be suspected of or has suffered a concussion, parents, teachers and coaches should ensure the player is assessed, allowed to recover and receive proper treatment and support.

“Rather than putting them right back in the game, re-exposing them to potential further trauma, they should be giving the player a chance to get better,” Shaw says. “You want to give a child every opportunity to recover.”

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