Studies claim concussions don’t put high school athletes at higher risk for depression

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Despite all the research and headlines released about concussions over the past few years, there is still a shocking amount we don’t know about these brain injuries – especially when it comes to how they affect us in the long-run.

There has been some evidence to suggest concussions could contribute to long-term issues with memory and mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. However, two recent studies suggest the vast majority of athletes recover from any mental or physical side-effects of a concussion within a few years.

In one study of over 260 high school athletes who had been diagnosed with concussions, researchers found the athletes had no higher risk for depression within two years of their injury when compared to peers without any history of brain injury.

Similarly, a second study, involving more than 1,200 high school athletes, found no differences in the self-reported quality of life over two-years after their injury. Both studies were presented yesterday at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association annual meeting and should be considered preliminary until released in a peer-reviewed journal.

“It is interesting that high school athletes with previous concussion history do not report a decrease in quality of life,” said study author Jerod Keene, an athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

“When you consider that, overall, high school athletes have been shown to score higher on quality of life than their non-athlete counterparts, the risk of not playing sports could lead to lower quality of life than playing sports and sustaining concussion,” he suggests.

For Keene’s study, researchers assessed 448 female and 786 male high school athletes across 29 Wisconsin schools using standard health-related quality of life surveys. The survey also included questions about each athlete’s history of concussions.

Of the athletes surveyed, 79 girls and 182 boys reported suffering at least one concussion during their life. However, the analysis found “no significant differences” in either physical well-being or social functioning across all the athletes.

In the other study, Allison Schwarz explored whether high school athletes were potentially at a higher risk for depression after a concussion. Schwarz is also an athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin and used the same data as Keene’s study.

The findings again found no significant difference among those with a history of concussion and those with no record of brain injuries.

“High school athletes with a history of concussion report depression symptoms at the same rate as athletes who have never sustained a concussion,” Schwarz said.

Both groups emphasize that the findings shouldn’t be used to downplay the severity of concussions. There are still potential long-term complications, especially after severe traumatic brain injuries. But, Keene and Schwarz say young athletes and their parents may find some comfort in the latest findings.

“The conversation surrounding concussion in sport is constantly evolving,” Schwarz said, “and health care providers are seeking current evidence-based information to better serve their patients.”

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