Just this week we reported on a study that indicates brain injuries in children can significantly damage the child’s social skills, which may partially explain the findings of another recent report. The most recent study found that teenagers who have had a traumatic brain injury were at a notably increased risk of being bullied, attempting or considering suicide, having elevated psychological stress, and engaging in poor behaviors.
The researchers, led by Gabriela Ilie, PhD, from the Division of Neurosurgery and Injury Prevention Research Office in Toronto, use the findings to suggest that primary care doctors should be prepared to screen patients with traumatic brain injuries for potential and behavioral problems.
The study included 4,685 public school students from grades 7 to 12 who participated in the Ontario Student Drug and Health Survey in 2011. The students raged in age from 11 to 20.
The students were asked to report any traumatic brain injuries from their lifetime, with a TBI defined as a head injury that resulted in being unconscious for at least five minutes or being hospitalized for at least one night.
The participants’ mental and emotional health was evaluated through a short questionnaire on depressive symptoms, anxiety, and social dysfunction. Students who scored a 3 or higher were considered to have elevated psychological stress.
The participants were then asked if they had ever considered or attempted suicide, contacted a crisis helpline to talk to a counselor, or been prescribed medication for depression, anxiety, or both during the year before the survey.
The findings showed that 20 percent of the students had suffered a TBI during their lifetime, with male students being 47 percent more likely to report a brain injury than female students.
The students who had experienced a TBI were over 50 percent more likely to have elevated psychological stress compare to the students who had not. The researchers also noted that TBI was associated with 3.39 times increased odds of attempting suicide and 1.93 times increased odds of thinking about suicide.
When compared to students with no history of TBI, the students with TBI were 2.1 times more likely to seek counseling or to call a crisis helpline, and 2.45 times more likely to be prescribed medication for depression, anxiety, or both.
The survey showed that TBI was associated with 1.7 times increased odds of being bullied at school, 2.05 times increased odds of being cyber bullied, and 2.9 times higher chance of being threatened with a weapon at school.
Similarly, the students with a TBI history were more than twice as likely to engage in poor conduct behaviors such as taking another persn’s car without permission, stealing more than $50, setting fire to objects, running away from home, breaking into locked buildings, or hurting someone on campus compared to students without TBI records.
“These results show that preventable brain injuries and mental health and behavioral problems among teens continue to remain a blind spot in our culture,” Dr. Ilie said in a press statement. “These kids are falling through the cracks.”
As DailyRx points out, the study did have some limitations. Most notably, the data was self-reported, but the study also did not include students who had been institutionalize, so the associations may be underestimated. Lastly, the researchers did not know if the events occurred after TBI as coping mechanisms or as organic predisposed factors relating to TBI.