Teenagers who have experienced a traumatic brain injury in their lifetime are significantly more likely to exhibit harmful behavior according to a new study published in the online journal PLoS ONE. The findings say this is especially true for girls.
The researchers analyzed responses from 9,288 Ontario students between Grades 7 and 12 about 13 harmful health behaviors including contemplating suicide, smoking marijuana, and binge drinking.
“Both boys and girls were more likely to engage in a variety of harmful behaviours if they reported a history of TBI, but girls engaged in all 13 harmful behaviours we looked for, whereas boys were at higher risk of engaging in only nine,” said Dr. Gabriela Ilie, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital. “Sex matters when it comes to traumatic brain injuries.”
The findings noted that girls with a history of brain injury were notably more likely to have smoked cigarettes, been bullied, contemplated suicide, or have increased psychological distress.
For the study, traumatic brain injury was defined as any hit or blow to the head resulting in loss of consciousness for at least five minutes or spending at least one night in the hospital due to symptoms relating to the head injury.
“Traumatic brain injuries are invisible but ignorance is not an excuse,” said Dr. Ilie. “Parents, clinicians, teachers and coaches need to take all brain injuries, including concussions, seriously because their effects can affect students’ formative years.”
The study relied on data from the 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey.
“Many harmful behaviours in adolescence can be precursors to addiction and mental health issues later in life,” said Dr. Robert Mann, senior scientist at CAMH and director of the OSDUHS. “The relationship between TBI and mental health issues is concerning and calls for greater focus on prevention and further research on this issue. We are seeing important links of adolescent TBI with both substance use and mental health problems and this combination of factors is something to watch as it may have a serious negative impact on these young people.”