Does Concussion Increase The Risk Of Suicide?

First Posted: Feb 09, 2016 07:26 PM EST

Concussions may increase the risk of suicide, according to a recent study.

While previous studies have suggested that severe, traumatic brain injuries may increase the risk of suicide, there has been less research on how concussions may impact overall suicide risk.

"We know that a concussion can cause lasting changes in the brain that can alter mood, perhaps resulting in behaviour changes, including impulsivity," said principal researcher Dr. Donald Redelmeier, an internal medicine specialist and senior scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, in a news release. "It's possible that we're seeing greater suicide risk linked to weekend concussions due to risk-taking associated with recreation or misadventure, whereas weekday injuries may be linked to employment hazards."

During the study, researchers analyzed Ontario health records and found over 235,000 concussion patients between 1992 and 2012. During that time period, almost 700 people died from a concussion with men and women equally affected and study participants at a mean age of 41. Findings also showed that the average time gap between the concussion and committing suicide was about six years.

People injured on weekdays accounted for close to 500 suicides or three times the population norm of about nine per 100,000 annually--while those whose brain injuries occurred on weekends accounted for almost 150 suicides or about four times the population norm.  In absolute terms, the study concluded that 470 of these deaths might not have occurred if patients' risks had matched those of the general population, researchers say.

While researchers note that the participants could have already been predisposted towards self-harm instead of concussion being a cause for increased risk, more questions remain.

"But it does leave this lingering question: Were they just predisposed to begin with or was there a direct injury that disrupted serotonin pathways and led to impulsivity and depression and sleep disturbances and irritability?" 

The study is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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