International study suggests concussions increase pro athletes’ chances for mental health issues

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Source: Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

A recent study conducted by concussion experts around the world suggests that former professional athletes who have experienced just four or five concussions during their career were 1.5 times more likely to experience mental health issues.

The athletes were significantly more likely to report problems with sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression later in life.

For the study published in the journal Physician and Sportsmedicine, researchers surveyed 576 former professional or top-level athletes from soccer, ice hockey, and rugby from seven European countries and South Africa. All participants were under the age of 50.

According to the report, those who reported either four or five concussions during their careers were approximately 150% more likely to report these mental health issues, compared to those with no history of concussion. Athletes who had six or more concussions were even more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

The surveys showed that while almost 25% of participating athletes had never suffered a concussion, more than one-in-10 say they’ve had six or more concussions during their careers.

“This is an important piece of research that suggests concussion might be a contributor to the mental health problems suffered by many players,” said lead author of the study, Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge.

Gouttebarge is a former professional football player who is now chief medical officer for the world players’ union FIFPro.

We as [soccer] stakeholders – federations, clubs and player unions – need to do be alert to the mental health of players, both during and after their careers.

“That means educating players about the dangers of what can be an intense and stressful career and supporting them when they need assistance.”

Gouttebarge worked with sports medicine and brain injury experts from South Africa’s University of Cape Town, Japan’s St. Marianna University School of Medicine, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow to conduct the study.

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